The Congregation of First United Church, White Rock, takes pride in celebrating its history and its contributions as it looks back on the church's beginnings in the beautiful seaside community of White Rock.
A baptism, held in May 1910, in the garden of pioneers Henry and Margaret Thrift, signified the first Protestant worship service in the area.
A mural of this baptism is painted in the Baptistery near the Chancel of the church. Mrs. G. Cottington, one of the children baptized that day, commissioned Langley artist Rudolph Messner to paint the mural, which is aptly titled, "Memories of 1910."
It all started in 1910, the year after the arrival of the railroad, when Rev. W.P. Goard, a retired Methodist minister and land speculator, began conducting services in his home near Oxford Road. Within months, his house burned and he and his family moved to Vancouver, but not before he had performed White Rock's first recorded marriage.
"Goard left the faith in good hands, those of Henry Thrift and postmaster Fred Philp, who improvised by holding Sunday School classes on Thrift's lawn, and prayer sessions and hymn singing in Philp's house. Services took on a more formal tone in the schoolhouse on Thrift's property, until the church was built on Prospect Avenue in 1913."See Schools to 1939
A history of First United, by historians Lorraine and Hugh Ellenwood.
First school house used as a church
Methodist Church on Prospect Avenue
Services were held in worshipper's homes under the leadership of retired Methodist ministers Rev. Goard and Rev. Colpitts until a Mission Church was built on Prospect Avenue. The Western Methodist Recorder reported, "The new church at White Rock was opened for public worship on Sunday, August 31, 1913."
One of the fund raisers to provide for the new church
"From the beginning, church membership read like a Who's Who of early White Rock. The business of organizing and constructing a church was not new to Thrift. He had earlier donated land for a church building at Hazelmere, 'on the condition that it be a Union Church open to people of any faith.' See Hazelmere United
"Under the auspices of the Methodists, White Rock's first church was also designated a Union Church. By this time, other church supporters had arrived, among them the Vidal and Hughes families, tireless lifetime members."
A history of First United Church; by historians Lorraine and Hugh Ellenwood.
In 1914, Rev. B. H. Balderson became the first resident minister for the White Rock Methodist Church at a salary of $224.40 per year. White Rock, dramatically touted as the "Naples of the Pacific," was growing rapidly and within a year, the Sunday school had grown to over 50 with the adult membership of White Rock and Hazelmere listed as 35. It became clear that a larger church would be needed within a few years, and the women of the Ladies Aid (organized in 1912) began their work to help raise money for a church and parsonage.
"Columbia College in New Westminster provided student ministers, and help as needed came from a reserve of retired ministers resident in Ocean Park. The congregation numbered 35 by 1915. At times, churchgoers employed at the Campbell River Lumber Co. mill found it hard to take part in church events at the other side of town. The Anglicans helped out, allowing services to take place in their new church on Victoria Avenue, as long as a qualified minister was in charge.
White Rock was growing quickly, though, and the congregation had outgrown its original building. In 1920, two lots were purchased on Victoria Avenue near Johnston Road. The new Union church opened on April 9, 1922, with seating for more than 200."
A history of First United Church; by historians Lorraine and Hugh Ellenwood.
Before the new church building became a reality, however, there were several changes in the ministry personnel: Rev. J. P. Bowell became minister in 1916; Rev. W. M. Scott in 1920; and Rev. C. D. Clark in 1921. While Rev. Scott was minister, it was noted in the minutes that he would be allowed two weeks for a wedding trip.
First United on Victoria Avenue at Fir Street
United Church on Victoria Avenue, 1946
In August of 1921, a Building Committee was appointed, and plans were made to build a new church on land between Victoria and Columbia Avenues near Johnston Road. The church was dedicated on April 9, 1922 with an "At Home" for the community on the following evening. At a meeting the following day, a vote of thanks was sent to the Missionary Board of the Methodist Church for the grant given to erect the church.
Later in 1922, Rev. J. Code became minister, followed by Rev. Robert Hughes in September of 1923. Two items were noted in 1924: envelopes for systematic giving were introduced in August; and Marine Drive (then known as Washington Avenue) was opened making Rev. Hughes's trip shorter and his work easier!
Among other groups, the Red Cross and Boy Scouts met regularly in the church schoolroom. In 1923, the marriage of Marion Philp and Gordon Cottington was the first in the new church.
A history of First United Church; by historians, Lorraine and Hugh Ellenwood
On June 10, 1925, members of the Methodist, Presbyterian and Congregationalist Churches celebrated the official formation of the United Church of Canada. The little church on the hill became White Rock United Church and formed a pastoral charge with Crescent United. Mr. E. Saunders (who had served the church for many years as the official Sunday greeter) was appointed to attend the first Conference of the United Church held in Vancouver.
Upon entering the United Church of Canada in 1925, the congregation purchased new pews and built a bridge across the ditch leading to the church.
Although the building still served as a quasi community hall, tolerance was not unlimited. It did not extend to the White Rock branch of the Ku Klux Klan, who asked permission to hold meetings in the church basement in 1926. And in 1928, church spokesmen asked Surrey council to support their motion opposing Sunday baseball games.
A history of First United Church; by historians Lorraine and Hugh Ellenwood
In 1929, plans were made to build a manse for the new minister, Rev. W. C. Frank and his wife, with the help of a $1,250 loan (5% interest) and a grant of $250 from the Home Mission Board. Rev. Frank began a ministry that continued from 1929 to 1939, during which time White Rock United became self–supporting.
In 1931, Hazelmere and Sullivan also became designated points in the charge but in the mid–thirties the charge was once again made up of White Rock United and Crescent United Churches. With World War II looming, Rev. Frank Hardy was appointed minister in 1938. The Ladies' Aid was renamed the Women's Auxiliary in 1941, and the women of the W.A. often teamed with the Red Cross to volunteer for community duties for the war effort. Many women also belonged to the Women's Missionary Society and corresponded with missionaries all over the world, many of whom were interned during the war.
Rev. Peter Connal was appointed minister in 1944, and once again the church faced change as the war ended and the members of the armed services returned to the community and to the church. Following the war, the church grew steadily and membership in the Sunday school crowded the basement of the church. In 1950, a special donation of $15.00 was made by the church to the Manitoba Flood Relief Fund. A joint meeting of White Rock and Crescent Churches was called to consider holding a religious canvass of the areas served by these churches.
By the time celebrations were held for the 25th anniversary of the United Church in June 1950, it became evident that a new church building was needed. The church on the hill had served well but it was now too small, and the steep slope created problems. Long time member Laura Love remembered many women tripping down the slope and ruining precious nylon stockings.
When the Rev. Walter Ward became minister in 1952, he spearheaded the drive to build a new church. It was at this time that White Rock United became a separate charge. The Expansion Fund and Budget Program were launched in 1956, headed by Dr. R. J. Allan Hogg and Frank Pratt with Max Green in charge of the pledge plan. The contractor was church member Clayton McGhan whose building crew received $1.75 per hour. There were also many volunteers from the church.
First United White Rock under construction
The property for church and manse (located near Buena Vista and Centre Streets) was purchased in March of 1957. When the corner stone was laid on October 2, 1957, the official name of the church became First United Church, White Rock.
First United Easter service 1958
Rev. Alfred Laing and Laing at the Baptistery
Shortly after the dedication service of the church on February 9, 1958, Rev. Ward announced his resignation, and Rev. Alfred Laing's induction service was held in August 1958. Rev. G.B. Gibson served as the part time pastoral assistant from 1962 to 1968.
Activities were bustling with a church membership of over 500 with 260 children and 26 teachers in the Sunday school. There was a large enrollment in Messengers, Explorers, CGIT and Youth Fellowship, and there were 80 voices in the combined junior and senior choirs under the direction of organist Margaret Hanslow and choir director Winnie Robinson. When Elsie Turnbull became organist, she and Mrs. Robinson became a musical team for the next 25 years.
Rev. Laing resigned amid some tension in early 1963, and Rev. Howard Filsinger was called to begin a ministry that would continue for over 31 years. Rev. Filsinger moved into the manse with his wife, Dorothy, and young sons Bruce and Brian. When asked about the difficulties that existed when he first came to First United, Rev. Filsinger answered with his usual sense of humour: "In a certain sense I came with blissful ignorance. I knew there was some tension but I was told that the church had to have a good fight, and every second minister had to be evicted!"
A fundraising frenzy began which included the famous turkey suppers served by the women of the church to 300 people in three shifts. Julia Pratt often mentioned that although the men washed the dishes, the women had to return the next day to search for the cutlery which the men had thrown down the hill with the wash water.
During the 1960s, several changes were made in the services. The evening service was discontinued in 1967, and an early Sunday morning service was initiated for the parents of the Sunday school children. This was changed the following year to a family service at 9:30 a.m. Rev. T. D. Barnett served as part time ministerial assistant from 1968 to 1969.
In 1965, a three year plan was introduced for retiring the debt with each contributor to give one dollar more per month to the fund. The final payment was made on the mortgage in 1969.
On July 2, 1967, a special service was held to celebrate Canada's Centennial. Session members discussed concerns about the Vietnam War with a proposal to assist draft dodgers being tabled. Danby Hannah was appointed Clerk of Session in 1968 following Fred Paterson. In 1968, the South Surrey Cub Pack began to meet in the church, and this connection with the Scouting Movement has continued to the present time.
Rev. R.J. Love with Howard Filsinger
On July 1, 1969, the White Rock Pastoral Charge was constituted, combining First United and Sunnyside United Churches. Rev. Howard Filsinger and Rev. R. J. Love were called as ministers for the pastoral charge, with one–third of Rev. Love's salary being paid by Sunnyside United. In 1972, Rev. Trevor D. Jones took over Rev. "Bert" Love's position, and became an integral part of the planning for the joint First and Sunnyside family camps held at Cultus Lake United Church Camp. Rev. Jones worked out of the offices at First United, but Sunnyside United gradually assumed full responsibility for his salary.
The two churches also joined together to sponsor a family from Viet Nam. In 1972, Alice Neilson became Clerk of Session, and in 1975 she arranged a series of fellowship suppers for which over 95% of the people on the church rolls were involved. Her interest in outreach sparked the church's activity in the "Ten Days for World Development" in 1979.
There were also changes in the music department. A new organ was installed in 1975, and several cantatas were presented in the following years. After serving the church for over 25 years, choir director Winnie Robinson and organist Elsie Turnbull retired in 1980. At their farewell parties, the congregation remembered with delight the cantatas and other musical events they had presented, especially the Candlelight Carol Services with every seat filled. Mrs. Robinson was noted for her beautiful rendition of "Bless This House."
The W.A. and the WMS became known as the United Church Women, and the UCW inaugural service was held on Jan. 21, 1962. The women had been the leading fundraisers for the manse, and at the 1963 AGM, they celebrated the payment of all the notes on the manse. In 1964 the church celebrated the 50th anniversary of work by the women of the congregation.
This decade also marked the decision of an active member of the church to enter the ministry. In 1965, Session approved the application for ministry of Gordon Laird, and in 1968, the church celebrated his ordination at St. Andrews' Wesley United.
In 1977, John Hoy became Clerk of Session, and formed a committee to consider adding another minister to the Charge. Times were changing in the UCC, and more women were taking their place as ordained ministers, following in the footsteps of Rev. Dr. Lydia Gruchy. Dr. Gruchy, who had repeatedly sought ordination in the UCC from 1926, was ordained on Nov. 4, 1936 in Moose Jaw, and in 1953 became the first Canadian woman to receive an honorary degree of Doctor of Divinity.
Rev. Mollie Williams
In 1978, Rev. E. M. "Mollie" Williams became the first woman to join the ministerial staff at First United. Her first major job was to oversee a groundbreaking change in the administration of First United – the unification of the Session and Stewards into the Council model in 1981.
Times were changing in the interior of the church as well. Donations were received in 1978 to install hearing aids and provide cushions for the now "comfortable" pews. The stained glass windows installed to the rear of the choir loft provided beauty but they were also useful in cutting out the sun that shone through the windows and often "blinded the choir." The windows were donated by Howard and Dorothy Filsinger and Connie and Paul Redman.
First United Choir with Gloria Doubleday
1980 marked a change in the music department as Gloria Doubleday joined the staff as organist and senior choir director. Joyce Piper directed the Junior Choir in "Spirit–u–al–away" before turning over the leadership of the choir to Gloria Doubleday. In 1983, Gloria presented "Amahl and the Night Visitors" directed by David Meek with voices of the Senior and Praise Choirs.
In 1983, Rev. Trevor Jones retired, and the Sunnyside and First congregations said farewell to Trevor and his wife, Alicia. Sunnyside United welcomed Rev. Bob Faris and his wife, Celia. This was also the year the Cultus Lake Family Camp turned into a picnic, thus ending a tradition begun in 1972.
The Membership Committee held a New Year's Eve Party; get–acquainted party for newcomers; "Guess Who's Coming to Dinner"; and a luncheon for the 25th anniversary of First United Church. Their report noted, "It has been our concern to try to get more coordination between the 9:30 and 11 am people. There seems to be quite a division here."
1986 saw the first Santa Claus Breakfast, and celebrations were held to recognize the 50th anniversary of Dr. Lydia Gruchy's ordination. The new Pictorial Directory was dedicated to Dr. Gruchy. A Directed Stewardship Campaign was held with 74 visitors making 599 visitations. In 1986, another step was taken in making the church more accessible, and a ramp was built by the front steps. A memorial garden was then created at the front of the church, a project spearheaded by the Doucett Family and Margaret Ford as a memorial to the late Eldred Ford. The Bob Wyborn family and the Helen and Harold Ullrich family also took part in the project.
In 1987, Rev. Stephen Bemrose–Fetter joined the staff to begin programming for the youth.
Bob Wyborn took a leading role in the expansion and updating of the Church.
On the right, Clayton McGhan cuts the ribbon at the opening of the Marion Brown Administrative Wing.
The addition of the Marion Brown Administrative Wing
The big event in September 1987 was the opening of the Marion Brown Administration Wing which was designed by Neville Graham and provided much needed, and more modern, office space for the staff. The photocopier took over from the old Gestetner, but the folding machine work–horse remained!
In 1983, the Community Christmas Day Dinner was initiated by George Bryant and Howard Filsinger. Mr. Bryant, a community activist, was saddened to learn of several suicides which had occurred during the Christmas season, and he decided that no one should have to be alone on Christmas Day. First United continues to host this event which has grown through the years and is deeply appreciated by the community.
Although turbulent times lay ahead for the church, many happy events took place in 1988 as the Youth Ministry was continued by Louise Mangan, a Secret Pen Pals program was introduced, and the church celebrated Howard Filsinger's 25th anniversary of ministry at First United. Celebrations were held on the occasion of the marriage of Rev. Mollie Williams and Rev. Gordon Verplank.
The life and work of the church continued, and 1989 marked the year that First United became a separate pastoral charge, and the church members preceded with a Congregational Vitalization Program. A new Youth Coordinator, Gina D'Arcy, was hired, assisted by Brent Moore and Marilyn Adams. In 1990, the youth work was continued by Rosemary and Greg Davis.
1990 marked the 65th anniversary of the United Church of Canada, and it also marked a change of minister for Sunnyside United as Rev. Bob Faris retired and Rev. Stuart Lyster took his place in office designated to Sunnyside United in the administration wing at First United.
In 1991, proposals were presented by the Vitalization Program amidst a change in ministry.
Rev. Mollie Williams resigned and Rev. Norman Pettersson accepted the call in August.
On the right is Rev. George Searcy and Rev. Norman Pettersson
In 1992, the congregation was struggling with how to provide programs for the youth of the church. The number of youth attending church had dropped dramatically and this led to the decision to discontinue the paid youth worker position which had been in place since 1987. Although the position was now held by volunteers, the decision to change caused tension and sadness. A Strategic Planning Committee was struck to consider the church's role in the life of the congregation and the community over the next five to ten years.
Difficult times were experienced over the report of the 32nd General Council entitled: "Toward a Christian Understanding of Sexual Orientation, Lifestyle and Ministry." Study groups were led by Mollie Williams and Howard Filsinger. The Worship Committee reported that it had made a unanimous resolution confirming the teachings of Christ which referred to God as our "Father." They also reported, "The ordination of homosexuals was a subject of concern for many members of the United Church of Canada. A study group met and resolved that United Church ministers should be faithfully married or celibate."
A Community of Concern group organized in the area, and they worked towards having the motion passed by General Council in 1988 rescinded. The congregation was saddened when many members left the church in 1988, while others withheld their financial contribution. Clerk of Session Betty Huff played an important role in helping First United steer through this difficult time. Betty often spoke of her last minute decision to stand for Clerk of Session in her effort to represent a more balanced view of the situation. She had a difficult time ahead of her, but she was never one to back down.
A Men's Group is formed: Many great friendships were made and events organized beginning with the leadership of the Father's Day Service and the Men's Retreat at Harrison in 1990. Through the years, many a "Mug & Muffin" was planned and many a pancake flipped by the members, including Harvey Manchuk, Arne Pederson, Ken Hembroff, Kees Koster, Bob Way, Bob Kerr, David Cotton, Matt Haapala, Bob Petrie, Norm Pettersson, Dave Henderson, Ken Harvey, John Watkins, Rod Drysdale, Walter Adams, Ian Monaghan, Neville Graham, Eric Farris, Bob Brownridge, Gerry Porter, Dave Freeze, Merv Lutes, Ken Hildebrand, Paul Goud, and many, many more. This group later became known as the Fellowship Group, famed for its fundraising events and golf tournament with Mt. Olive Lutheran.
In 1993, a mission statement was adopted at the February AGM:
"Our mission is to assist people of the Semiahmoo Peninsula in living a full Christian life by providing: innovative programs, a place where people of all ages, including young families, build their lives on Christian values, and the opportunity to participate together in a friendly, supportive, worshipping and serving community"
That year an idea was formed that eventually snowballed into several major projects. Margaret Graham and Ellen Kennett recognized the need for an industrial–size dishwasher which step by step led to the idea of a new kitchen. They decided to raise money by forming a catering group for memorial teas and other occasions which the UCW were no longer able to accept. It became a great team: Bonnie Bruce, Muriel Wanzel, June Koster, Margaret Matthews, June Curtis, Gerry Freeze, Helen Way, Ruth Drysdale, Marilyn Buchanan, Lyn Bryans, Lorrie Scott, Doreen Hoath, Noreen Fedewich, Betty Wahl, Caple Lord and many, many, many others, with gourmet goodies provided by umpteen volunteers bakers.
First United hosted a royal occasion on April 20, 1992 when the City used the church for Governor General Ray Hnatyshyn's visit to present the Coat of Arms to the City on its 35th anniversary. Another celebration was held in May when the choir honoured Frank and Julia Pratt with a program written by Carol Monaghan. It was "Royal" in all ways as Florence Brownridge took the part of the Queen in one of the skits. The donation of $4,358 was used to establish an organ fund.
A congregational events committee was formed to plan four social events per year, and a successful Christmas potluck was held at Camp Kwomais.
The church undertook the sponsorship of a family from El Salvador in cooperation with Crescent United. New things were happening at the church: the pictorial Church Directory was a big success and the major rooms in the church had sprouted a forest of new names. Each room was given the name of a tree complete with appropriate plaque. The choir room (which many, many years ago had been called "The Ladies' Parlour" until the men objected!) was now the Arbutus Room, and the lower hall became the Cedar Hall.
The church mourned the passing of the Rev. Dr. Lydia Gruchy, but celebrated the 125th Anniversary of Confederation by singing "O'Canada" after each worship service during the year. This was at the urging of Clerk of Session John Hoy.
1993 marked a new era between First and Sunnyside. After 24 years of Sunnyside ministers sharing office space at First, Rev. Stuart Lyster moved to his new office space at Sunnyside. Celebrations were held to mark the 25th anniversary of Scout sponsorship; the 35th anniversary of the opening of the present church; and the 30th anniversary of the ordination of Rev. Filsinger. Ilma Dunn was recognized for her 18 year tradition of writing to out–of–town visitors to the church, and Dora Rice was honoured as she retired from her position as flower steward after 25 years' service. Max and Rene Green were also honoured for their service to the church. Names of members who were part of the church in 1958 were inscribed on a plaque which was displayed in the sanctuary near the north windows. A "Remember and Write" group was formed, and the White Rock Raging Grannies, organized by Barbara Strudwick, set their protests to song with many of the lyrics written by Phil Strudwick. The First Humungous Garage Sale was held!!!
1994 was the year that a Pastoral Relations Committee was struck to fill the position of Rev. Filsinger who was retiring after serving the church with great dedication. The planning began for a musical revue to celebrate his ministry, an undertaking which involved a large cast and crew from the congregation, with many rehearsals, some frustration and lots of fun. The revue was written by Carol Monaghan, directed by Rev. Pettersson with Marilyn Adams assisting. Charles Cuthbert was the musical director with musicians Wes and Olive Hannah, Gwen Baker and Lyle Wyatt.
On January 20, 1995, "Hurrah for Howard" was presented to a packed church as members of the church and community honoured Howard and Dorothy Filsinger and wished them well after 31 years of ministry at First United.
Reverend Dr. Mervyn Lutes
Rev. George Searcy served a six month interim ministry until the arrival of Rev. Dr. Mervyn Lutes with his wife, Barbara, in July of 1995. It was also a year of celebration for Anne and Norm Pettersson who celebrated 30 years of ministry.
In 1996, another pictorial directory became a reality, and a successful Vacation Bible School was attended by 37 children. The congregation was delighted with the presentation of the paraments for the communion table and pulpit designed and stitched by Anne Pettersson.
A change in the music ministry took place upon the resignation of Gloria Doubleday in 1996, and Charles Cuthbert became interim music director. Charles completed his term in May 1997 by staging a presentation of "The Church Year in Music" presented by the choir.
In 1997, a search on the Internet resulted in the recruitment of Kevin Parks as organist and music director. The congregation was delighted when he presented a children's musical called "Christmas Fever" in December. For the first time in 39 years, the manse was occupied by someone other than the minister when Kevin and his wife Dana Pardy rented the house.
During the late nineties, staff changes were made as a youth leader was hired, and the congregation approved the parish nurse program which had been initiated by Carol Petrie and Rev. Pettersson. The congregation also raised money for a grand piano and a new organ. Audio–visual equipment was purchased for power point presentations, and the 9:30 service took on a new look as the numbers attending the early service began to grow.
After many months of work, spearheaded by Chair of Council Bonnie Haapala, the Constitution was completed, and an Advisory Committee for Special Gifts was formed. A mid–week service was begun on Wednesday evenings.
Reverend Trevor Jones
The church celebrated the 50th anniversary of the ordination of Rev. Trevor Jones. Dawn and Gerry Porter organized a new event – a chicken and corn fun fest BBQ! The Outreach Committee organized a Remember and Tape project for people unable to write their memoirs, and the Voices United hymn books were ordered!
The vision of a new kitchen was realized in 1997, and it drew rave reviews. It was equipped by the UCW and the Catering Group, and officially opened by Julia Pratt. The Peace Arch Community Services co–sponsored a cooking program for the community. It was noted that Meals on Wheels had used the kitchen for 20 years.
The congregation voted to proceed with a series of major projects beginning with the installation of an elevator, to be followed by alterations to the Cedar Hall, chancel, sanctuary, and manse.
A service was held in 1998 to celebrate the 40th anniversary of the present church, and Rev Filsinger, Minister Emeritus, spoke to the congregation about his years in the church. A new concept in fundraising was put forward in November 1998, when twenty dollar bills were handed to all those interested in a fundraising project for the church. And what fun everyone had with "Multiply Your Talents" during 1999. Out of that concept was born the "Wednesday Lunches" which carried on with great success for many years thanks to the efforts of many volunteers including Carol Mead, June Koster, Barbara Lutes and Doreen Hoath.
1999 began with the formation of a committee to plan events for the year 2000 to celebrate the church's 90th Anniversary. There were celebrations when a new piano was purchased and the congregation quickly filled the coffers to pay for it. Dr. R. J. (Al) Hogg was recognized on Father's Day for his contributions through the years.
A New Year's Party and Watch Night Service was held to bring in the year 2000, and the congregation looked forward to its 90th anniversary year. They remembered with appreciation those who had served as Chair of Council during the 1990s: Joe Corsbie, Bonnie Haapala, Don Ramsay, Fae Man–chuk, Nigel Smith and Nancy Murray; and Sunday school superintendents Mary Fran Bateman and Glenna Schlesiger
The year 2000 was a time of celebration and fun to honour the church's 90th Anniversary, with events being held every month. The 90th Anniversary theme of "God's Spirit Reaching Out" (put forward by Kees Koster) was recognized as the vision for the congregation. In June 2000, Rev. Lutes retired with a farewell presentation to him and Barbara called "Merv's Bash" written by Carol Monaghan and directed by Rev. Pettersson. One of the songs entitled "The Marvellous Mervyn Lutes", was a sentiment shared by all. Bright yellow T–shirts were made for the occasion bearing the 90th anniversary slogan (which was suggested by Barbara Lutes) – "Put on a Happy Faith". Rev. Sarah Wallace began a two–year Presbytery appointment which terminated with her resignation in August of 2001. Then began what was termed a "band–aid" solution to assist Rev. Pettersson in his ministry as he neared his retirement. The Parish Nurses, Carol Petrie and Kathy Matusiak, took on extra duties, as did the Youth and Young Family Coordinator, Gerildine Smith.
The First United Sanctuary
An ad hoc committee was formed to look at Sanctuary renovations as well as redecorating the narthex. They were spurred on by the donation of a window for the narthex which was a stained glass replica of the United Church crest. It was donated in May 1998 to the church by Matt and Bonnie Haapala, Betty Shandro and Fae and Harvey Manchuk in memory of family members. Fae Manchuk had met a young man in her position as group therapist at Mountain Prison in Agassiz. With Fae's encouragement (and her insistence that he find something worthwhile to do with his time!) the young man began to study the art of stained glass design under the tutelage of an older inmate. He had found his creative gift and Fae commissioned him to design the window. The young man was sent to another prison before he could make the window, but another inmate completed the job using David's design. David is now living a productive life in a community in Canada. A good news story all round.
Budget concerns expressed at the 2002 AGM reflected concern and tension within the church. Young families moved for increased funding for the staff of the Christian Education ministry. This resulted in the decision to evaluate the programs of the church and clarify what kind of programs should be offered. During the next few months, a committee headed by Doreen Hoath worked to complete the evaluation by the end of June 2002.
Rev. Norm and Anne Pettersson marked their retirement on June 30, 2002, and the congregation remembered how Rev. Pettersson's gift for directing drama had enriched the worship services, and also provided great fun with his summer theatre presentations. Shortly before Rev. Pettersson retired, he held a special service to mark the completion of the chancel renovations with the presentation of the new pulpit, modesty screens and flower stands.
The summer of 2002 marked several farewells: Kevin Parks and Dana Pardy returned to their home on the east coast; Carol Petrie retired from her position as parish nurse, and Gerildine Smith stepped down as youth coordinator.
Rev. Joan K. McMurtry was called to ministry at First United on September 2002, to begin a time of planning and visioning with the congregation. The congregation also welcomed Reynhardt Crause as the director of music. Rev. Joan McMurtry served from 2002 to 2014.
A new staffing model was implemented in 2003. Staff associate positions were established to oversee the ministries for youth and young families (filled by Alison Wainwright) and pastoral care (filled by Kathy Matusiak). Kathy continued her work as parish nurse and pastoral care coordinator and oversaw the 7 pm healing and meditation service held on the last Sunday of the month. In 2004, the manse was sold after undergoing renovations, and the church office was re–roofed. Recognition must be made of the many volunteers who have given their time (and muscle power) on the Property Committee through the years, including Jack McLeod, Bob Wyborn, Neville Graham, Matt Haapala, Bob Simpson, John Curran, Kees Koster, Paul Goud and Ian Monaghan. A major change was made in 2005 when the 9:30 and 11 am services were combined to one service at 10:30 am. And a major event began: The Social Justice Film Festival initiated by Rev. Jack McLachlan welcomed over 300 people to the February weekend event. The church continued to sponsor the Thursday community lunch program with the Crescent Beach Community Services.
Lay leadership played a pivotal role in the summer worship services. It was noted in the 2002 annual report that during the summer of transition, many members discovered they were quite comfortable conducting the services.
In the absence of a youth coordinator, Becky Milne, Glenna Schlesiger, Susan Jivung and Ken Harvey worked diligently to provide activities for the youth and young families. The Senior Youth Group was cancelled but a Youth Steering Committee was formed. The Junior Youth Group took on an expanded role, and the Family Nights had an intergenerational focus.
2002 marked the first–ever Fall Fair (initiated by Jim Sheppard) which was a great success. It also marked the beginning of the discernment process for Ivy Vaksdal Thomas. And another new idea: In 2003, the Santa Breakfast was replaced with Breakfast In Bethlehem featuring soldiers, innkeepers, astrologers, angel guides, animals, and the holy family. It was well attended by church members and the community. "Spirit Anew" was introduced to the 9:30 service providing a contemporary worship band to provide a more energetic and informal worship.
In 2005, the congregation mourned the passing of Minister Emeritus Trevor D. Jones, and joined their voices to sing his favourite hymn "Guide Me, O Thou Great Jehovah". Long time members recalled his rousing sermons and his ability to lead the young people at the Cultus Lake Family Camps.
Tribute must be paid to the United Church Women. They have played an integral role in the life of First United Church from their early beginnings as the Ladies Aid. By the 1970s , there were five units which held special events, worked on outreach projects, learned about pressing social issues, were activists for their causes, and raised a great deal of money – and they also provided fellowship and a lot of fun for the women of the church.
2006 marked several events of note:
The first year of operation of the Planned Gifts Committee which had been established to promote and manage the Planned Gifts Fund.
The installation of the church sign which had been in the plans for several years.
The reroofing of the church with thanks to the members who contributed to the "Roof Financial Drive";
The graduation of 23 people from the 32–week Disciples course led by Rev. McMurtry.
A special "Hallelujah" event was the celebration for Ivy Thomas when she celebrated her ordination in May 2006.
Several staffing changes took place in 2007. Alison Wainwright left the position of Youth and Family Minister and Charlene Classon was contracted to work with the youth; Michael Vanstone, dedicated caretaker for many years, moved to Alberta, and Ernie Hoflin became the "building host". When Reynhardt Crause moved to another position, Dawn Porter became the music anchor until Sheila Miller Bower became Music Director. The church was delighted to journey with Alanna Menu who served as our interim student minister until her ordination in April 2007.
The congregation was reminded how we treasure our church treasurers when John Mead announced his retirement as treasurer in 2005 – although he continued to assist long after that! Throughout the years, the treasurer had been an essential part of the church administration. In the early 50s, Mr. Greig held the position, followed by Charles Shier, Angus McLean, Stewart "Bud" Merryfield, Jim Appleton and John Mead. John was ever the practical man and before he died he requested that he be remembered, not with flowers, but with donations straight to the General Fund! And while on the subject of finances, appreciation should be extended to those who have served on the finance committee through the years, including chairs Jim Sheppard and Gerry Porter. Our appreciation to all those who have given time to count the givings on Sunday mornings. Ernie and Anne Zukiwski have put in faithful service through the years with Doreen Hoath, and many others.
In June 2008, a special party was held for Joyce Key who retired after 25 years of service as church secretary – an important role in the life of the church. In 1962, Vi Kish took over the position from Mrs. Greig. (It was noted in the minutes of the late 50s that Mrs. Grieg's salary had been increased to $60 per month!.) Vi (assisted by Margaret Ford) was followed in 1979 by Carol Monaghan who was assisted by Isabelle Wieler. In 1983, Joyce began filling in and took over the main role in 1991, with Isabelle and Kathy Cross assisting. Susan Eastham was welcomed to the office in September 2008, and took on the position of Church Administrator.
When Sheila Miller Bower left her position as music director, the church welcomed Donna Dinsmore who brought many gifts to the choir and to the worship services. Charlene Classon continued her work leading the Youth of Promise, with Evelyn Dobson organizing the Wednesday evening meals provided by congregation members. Kathy Matusiak marked her 10th year as Parish Nurse guiding the prayer tree, the telephone ministry, the healing touch sessions and the meditation services. Faithful members of the Prayer Tree are Chris Merryfield, Freda McLean, Phyllis Mackie, Marlene Howard, Anne Zukiwski, and Peggy Smith. Sylvia Teal continues her many years of volunteer work visiting church members in hospital. Mildred Adam has been a supporter of the healing touch program for many years. The Nursing Home Ministry continues, and Kent Webster takes over from Jack Scott in providing transportation to church. Jaime–Lyn Hugh coordinated the Sunday morning Children's Ministry, and Ashley MacConnell conducted the children's choir.
In September 2008, Rev. Gordon Verplank decided to step out of his recent retirement to take the position of temporary quarter–time minister until June of 2010. This enabled Rev. McMurtry to spend additional time reaching out to the younger families in the community which included an initiative called "Spiritually Wired". Council approved a recommendation from the Worship Committee that the church sponsor Wes Buch as he completes the necessary courses at the Vancouver School of Theology.
The Centenary festivities began on January 3, 2010. At a special luncheon, the congregation was pleased to acknowledge members who had maintained a connection with the Church since the 1950s and early 60s: Ellen Sinclair Kennett, Howard Kennett, Mary McIlwain, Marg Martin, Alice Traill, Lily Ambrose Pallot, Dora Rice, Bob Way, and Helen Ullrich Way. Also acknowledged were those members who had followed in the footsteps of parents and parents–in–law who had been a part of the Church in those early years: Mel and Edythe Dickey, Doreen Hoath, Gordon and Muriel Kring, Olive Hannah and Gordon Hogg. Special events were held throughout the year, including a renewal of wedding vows, a seminar on planning for the future, and a high tea and show of fashions through the decades organized by Louise Bartel and Anita Kerr. An apple tree was planted in the church garden near the front steps to represent the union of the three churches to form the United Church of Canada. The 3–graft tree donated by Ken Harvey was dedicated on June 13, 2010, as a tribute to the 85th Anniversary of the UCC and the 100th Anniversary of First United. Church members participated in the "Plant 100 Trees Project" throughout the year, and 100 gift baskets were delivered to members of the community and to those who could no longer attend church. The Grandmothers to Grandmothers Campaign of the Stephen Lewis Foundation was selected as the international outreach project for the Centenary. This "History" is also being put together as a part of the Memories Book prepared by Barbara Lutes and the Remember And (W)rite members. A commemorative stone donated by Ellen and Howard Kennett will be placed near the entrance to the church. Two banners for the Chancel were designed and stitched by Anne Pettersson to mark the 100th Anniversary. Members of the 100th Anniversary Committee: Sharon Coates, Louise Bartel, Merv and Barbara Lutes, Fred Dobson, Jean Kromm, Corazon Suarez, Kees Koster, and Carol Monaghan, with assistance from Joan McMurtry and Susan Eastham.
2010 was a year filled with celebrations and acknowledgments of the work contributed by past leaders at First United. Council members Sharon Coates, Fred Dobson, Doreen Hoath, Ellen Kennett, Kees Koster, Fae Manchuk, Glenna Schlesiger, Jim Sheppard, Carol Wagner, Cheryl Young, Jean Kromm and Elizabeth Winkler were thanked as were those who had served as Chairs of Council over the past ten years: Carol Monaghan, Jim Sheppard, Ken Harvey, Carol Wagner and Sharon Coates.
In many ways, the 100th anniversary celebrations marked a turning point in the life of the First United. In October 2010, the congregations of Crescent, Hazelmere, Sunnyside and First United Churches were invited to join in a "Journey of Exploration and Hope" to explore the possibility of future ties.
Staff changes were made in 2010 as Rev. Gordon Verplank completed his contract time with First United and Charlene Classon stepped down as leader of the Youth Outreach Program. Rev. Joan McMurtry continued her ministry to the younger generation, with Susan Hunter–Jivung providing volunteer leadership to the youth. Jaime–Lynn Hugh (leader of Godly Play for the children) and Ashley McConnell (director of the children's music program) rounded out the programming.
In 2011, the congregation was saddened by the death of the Rev. Howard Filsinger who had served First United for 31 years.
Change was also ahead for the Social Justice Film Festival which had been initiated by Rev. Jack McLachlan. After six years of administering and hosting this highly successful event along with other community members, First United turned over future administration to the White Rock Social Justice Film Festival Society which continued to hold their program in the church.
Chair of Council Jean Kromm together with assistance of husband Gerry Kromm completed the plan to upgrade the sound system in the sanctuary.
In 2012, music director Donna Dinsmore's decision to seek ordination was met with joy by the congregation. Terri Johanson was welcomed as the new music director. The congregation also celebrated with Rev. McMurtry when she was presented with a Queen Elizabeth II Diamond Jubilee medal to acknowledge the social justice issues which were spearheaded by Rev. McMurtry and championed by the congregation.
First United continued its outreach work in the community. The Extreme Weather Shelter Program coordinated by Dick Avison served an increasing need in the area. Volunteers from First, Crescent and Sunnyside United Churches organized a twice–monthly community dinner.
2013–14 saw a myriad of staff retirements: Susan Eastham as office administrator; Ernie Hoflin as building host; Kathy Matusiak as Parish Nurse and Pastoral Care minister; and the Rev. Joan McMurtry after serving 38 years in the ministry – twelve years at First United. At the 2014 B.C. Conference General Meeting in Nanaimo, Rev. McMurtry's dedication was celebrated as was the ordination of the Rev. Donna Dinsmore.
2014 heralded a new ministerial team for First United: the Rev. Louise Cummings was chosen as lead minister with Rev. Bruce McAndless–Davis serving as minister of Families, Pastoral Care and Healing.
The congregation of First United began the process of discerning and visioning their future in 2009. The following provisos were made: that there be an ongoing ministry in this neighbourhood; that any development, collaboration will provide long term economic stability; and that development partners will include non–profit organizations, if possible.
This process led to the formation of the Futures Committee (headed by Sharon Coates and Rev. Dr. Merv Lutes) which began its work with the Property Resource Team of B.C. Conference of the United Church of Canada to seek ways to ensure the continued financial sustainability of the church. First United was one of several congregations in B.C. involved in this venture. Each congregation worships in an older building and each faces dwindling membership. In 2014/15, the congregation of First United will receive and vote upon the report concerning its future. The congregation continues to stress its vision of "God's Spirit Reaching Out" and its mission statement.
Our Mission is to assist people of the Semiahmoo Peninsula in living a full Christian life by providing innovative programs and a place where people of all ages, including young families, build their lives on Christian values and all participate together in a friendly, supportive, worshipping and serving community.
This history of First United Church, White Rock was compiled and written by Carol Monaghan – December 2010, from historical material prepared by Mrs. J.R. Sinclair, Frank Pratt, Max Green and Don Munro in the "older" times to Anne Bailey and Doreen Hoath in the more recent times.
Pictures were provided courtesy of Carol Monaghan
A history of First United Church; by historians Lorraine and Hugh Ellenwood.