Surrey History Banner

History of Sunnyside United to 2014
by Stuart Lyster

The history of the Sunnyside congregation is tied in with the development of the Sunnyside area of Surrey (an are which today is referred to as either "South Surrey" or as "Morgan Crossing"). 24th Avenue used to be known as Sunnyside Road, and the community name "Sunnyside" referred to this area at the crest of the south–sloping, "sunny–side" of the South Surrey/White Rock highlands. The area in the 19th Century was left depopulated due to disease which devastated the Snohomish and Salish people who historically inhabited the land. This area itself was then under joint United States/United Kingdom administration until the US/British Columbia border was created in 1846. For the next 50 years Sunnyside saw logging until most of the old growth was gone by the early 1900s. There had always been a United Church congregation in White Rock, First United Church, even before White Rock was incorporated as a city (when carved off from the District of Surrey in 1957). Yet, being up the hill and distant from what was then the beach–centered community of "White Rock," people/families wishing church in the Sunnyside area community had too far to go. White Rock as a community developed with a different ethos than here. Further north from here were other small United Churches which also served rural families in their area, but population grew sparser as one went north past the Serpentine River.


Main events in the history of the Sunnyside area include: the complete logging of the area by before World War I and the remnant of small railways to take logs to shore–level; in 1937 what was to become the King George Highway was built through Sunnyside to connect New Westminster with the US border at Peace Arch. A Great Depression Construction Camp 205 for this highway was situated at Sunnyside Road (now 24th Avenue) and the crew there worked southeast to the Peace Arch border crossing. A building from Camp 206 was moved to what is now 24th Avenue and 156th Street to serve as the Sunnyside Hall on land donated by local farmer George Cook.


Sunnyside United Church held its first service in 1949 in the Sunnyside Hall. The congregation consisted of young families and many, many of their children.


In the 1950s, a lot was purchased for $800 across the road from Sunnyside Hall and a little to the east at the present church location. Local farmers constructed the foundation and basement which still exists, and worship was briefly held in the basement. On Sept 23rd, 1951, the first church building was completed with the sanctuary facing to the south: it was dedicated. Throughout the 1950s, the Sunday morning congregation averaged perhaps 40 or 50, not including 50 children who crammed into the basement behind dividers. Children's choirs were a main program and highlight and the building became a focus of mid–week children's activities.


Clergy for Sunnyside United usually came from the distant Westminster Presbytery, Rev. Frank Hardy being the first in 1949. Those were the days of full Sunday Schools and large choirs, with support from ministers only as available. In those days the ministers were usually retired supply, like Rev. Hardy. The new building of Sunnyside United functioned as a main social outlet for the local community.


In 1962 the present route of Highway #99 bisected the Sunnyside area within a block of the church, cutting the community in half. In 1964 the Surrey Bus Service operated out of a depot at 24th and King George Highway. This included local bus service as well as into Vancouver. In 1974 the company merged with BC Transit. The opening of the Massey Tunnel on Highway #99 in 1962 and the Alex Fraser Bridge in 1986 enabled access to centers north of the Fraser River and in turn initiated suburban housing booms in the Sunnyside area which are still underway. Sunnyside United began a conversion from servicing spiritual needs of rural families to suburban single family dwellings, as well as retirement mobile home parks.


From 1951 onwards there were many attempts to "pair" the congregation with other United Churches, one being with the old Strawberry Hill United Church up on Scott Road in Delta. In 1968 Sunnyside United became part of a two–point pastoral charge with First United in White Rock. Rev. Howard Filsinger from First United was joined by Rev. Bert Love in 1969, the latter of whom took responsibility for Sunnyside United. (See First United White Rock)


In 1970, Sunnyside successfully completed a modest building addition to add space, building a new narthex at the south end and reversing the direction of the sanctuary. The congregants reversed themselves, facing north from 1970 to 1998. Sunday attendance varied in those years from the late 1970s, with about 50 attendees, but with a large Sunday school and a youth group which met once a week in the evening.


In 1972 Rev. Love left, and Rev. Trevor Jones came as clergy to the two churches, and again concentrated at Sunnyside United. Like Rev. Love, he had an office at First United. Church dinners and social nights continued as the site here continued as a community centre of sorts.


There was a "manse" (a church house for the minister's family) on the property, and The Jones' family resided there until 1974. This church–house was a project of a carpentry class at New Westminster High School and was trucked out here in the 1960s. From 1974 until 2011 the manse served as rental, affordable housing to the community as well as giving some income to the church.


Renters in the manse included a woman with racing cars and a pot–bellied pig, the minister and his family from one of the Korean Presbyterian Churches who had services here on Sunday afternoons, as well a man who never paid rent and left the night before the BC Sheriffs came to evict him! The last couple to live there decided to get married in 2011 when the man was diagnosed with inoperable cancer. Rev. Lyster performed the wedding in a ward at Peace Arch Hospital with nurses in as witnesses and to catch the bouquet. The man died three days later.


In 1983, Rev. Jones retired and Rev. Bob Faris came to the two–point pastoral charge and once again served Sunnyside United with his office at First United. Rev. Mollie Williams had joined First United in 1977 and with Rev. Howard Filsinger were the other clergy who focused mainly on First United Church. Bob came from a background serving the first-nations' villages on BC's west coast, as well as the Thomas Crosby mission boat.


Because Bob and Celia did not occupy the manse, they lived at Breakaway Bays' Mobile Home Park to the south. Bob became an informal chaplain to the 100s of senior families there, as well as the other four mobile home parks adjacent. At one point perhaps one–third of the Sunday morning congregation consisted of people from those parks. During Bob's time the community of "South Surrey" overtook "Sunnyside" as a neighbourhood, both remained quite distinct from White Rock; soon even outpacing it in population and economic impact.


In 1989, Sunnyside United split from First United to begin serving the Sunnyside area once again as an independent congregation, including the mobile home parks. At issue was the feeling at Sunnyside United that decisions of the combined First United/Sunnyside board were neglecting the needs up here on 24th Avenue. As South Surrey began to outpace White Rock in development, Sunnyside United found a distinct community ministry. In 1990 Rev. Stuart Lyster was called as the first full–time minister here. In 1990 Sunday attendance was perhaps 50 people, with only two or three children in Sunday school. As mentioned, the adult participants mainly resided in the mobile home parks to the south.


In 1990 the "job description" for the minister was four–fold: to attract young families to church; to develop the independent board–structure needed to maintain an independent pastoral charge; to relocate the office from First United; and to offer leadership in redeveloping the property and building. By 1994, Sunnyside United had relocated its office to on–site, and began an ambitious three–phase building program. By year–2000, this church had raised $650,000 for the three phases, and construction was aided by a no–interest loan from Mt. Shannon United Church near Chilliwack. In the interim, the on–site office was located in the south–west corner of the old narthex (where the Apse now stands). In 1995 the office was relocated to the closet across from the new men's washroom!


The major impediment to building here was the sewer. The line the church needed to connect to was at the top of Cranley Drive, a block east of the property. The development of the 55 high–end condos on the eastern property line in 1992 brought the sewer to the edge of our property. Clerk of Session Cormie Robbins devised a plan to pay for bringing the sewer on site – he built a tiny prairie–style outhouse, and invited congregants to donate to the sewer fund by putting donations into the hole. "Are you tired of government waste, or giving to charities which spend it on administration? Donate to our sewer fund where your money is guaranteed to go down the drain!"


Two of these three building phases were completed by 1998 resulting in the building configuration you see now in 2014. In 1998 the sanctuary was once again turned 180 degrees to face the south. A new signature stained glass window was installed, a gift from Peter and Enid LeBrooy of Vancouver. Signature side windows were also commissioned. Wooden pews were donated by Metropolitan United Church in Victoria.


Sunnyside United was a founding partner in the brief life of the White Rock/South Surrey Multifaith group in the 1990s. The group was founded by the leaders of the WRSS Jewish Community Centre. Our involvement culminated in a WRSSJCC–hosted Seder for our church at Camp Kwomais in 1997. Sunnyside United had always housed week–day children's day–care and secular kindergarten services. Merry Moppets and First Friends were two such services in the 1980s and 1990s. In 2000 Sunnyside United entered into a partnership with Wind & Tide Preschools, which itself now operates in 30 similar "campus" locations across the Lower Mainland. It began here as a preschool, and quickly developed a kindergarten program. In 2012, they opened a self–contained proprietary day–care in a separate building in the centre–north of the property.


That summer, in 2012, the manse itself was razed, to make room for more parking. Significant to the tear–down, it was briefly halted when a nest of swallows was found. The SPCA was contacted, and the swallows were relocated to their new home! The Manse was no more.


The plan for the Phase Three Hall was abandoned in 2006 when 24th Avenue itself was widened, and the Morgan Crossing/Morgan Heights development to the north and east began. The abandonment of Phase Three of our own building program led to the conversion of funds for the continuing long–term maintenance of the building and property. The widening of 24th Avenue in 2006 and the loss of street parking almost immediately halved the size of the Sunday Morning attendance, from an average of 135 to about 65.


As the ministry needs grew, Sunnyside United hired its first part–time secretary in 2000, Joyce Key. In 2008, Brenda Saunders was hired to fulfill that duty, as many of the clerical tasks formerly done by volunteers needed more professional and time consuming completion.


No history of any United Church is complete without mentioning The United Church Women (UCW). In 1990 Sunnyside United had 3 UCW "units" long since established: The Sunnettes, The AMICA, and The Friendship groups. Sunnettes were the original group and supported the congregation in dozens of ways: fundraising, evening dinners, receptions for weddings and funerals and fellowship among its members. Both AMICA and Friendship units were for study and fellowship of its members. Of note: the AMICA group gave a submission to the old South Fraser Health Region for how best to serve seniors in hospitals and healthcare. Because of age, the Friendship group disbanded in the late 1990s, and AMICA disbanded in the middle 2000s.


Two of Sunnyside United's UCW members went on to become President of the BC Conference Presbyterial – Patricia Mountain and Anna MacLean.


The Sunnettes are known for their annual Harvest Tea, St. Patrick's Day Stew Dinner, and the church picnics to both end and begin the church years (In May and September). The Stewards of the church also hosted a Shrove Tuesday Pancake Supper well into the 1990s.


Also, to allow maximum flexibility in the marriage ministry here, in 1995 both Isabel Sokol and Marjorie Defoe became licensed lay marriage officiants to Sunnyside United. They were trained by Bob Tuscan of Como Lake United who was also a lay marriage officiant and licensed by both Fraser Presbytery and BC Conference.


In the summer of 2001, Rev. Lyster entered into a clergy exchange with Winchester United Church, a combined congregation of The Reformed Church of England and The Methodist Church of England. Rev. Howard Sharpe and his wife Pam spent eight weeks here, and Rev. Lyster and his family relocated to Hampshire for that time.


The ministry realities here have gone through five or six sea–changes in the last 25 years. From a rural community church into the 1980s, Sunnyside United transitioned by serving many retired people in the five mobile home parks to the south in the early 1990s. Then building development completed in 1998 resulted in many young families being attracted to our Christian expression; which resulted in a large youth group and Sunday school.


Finally 2006 represented one of the last major changes in ministry here. As stated, it started with the redevelopment of 24th Avenue and the development of 10,000 homes in the Morgan Crossing area to the east. Rev. David Anderson from BC Conference led us in a "futuring" exercise which had to be suspended because so much was then unknown.


From 2007 to 2009, Rev. Lyster went on medical leave, and clergy supply was maintained first by Rev. Doug Alexander (retired), but then for almost two years by Rev. Judy Stark, who came from Chilliwack United Church. In those years the reality of the new area set in, and younger families departed. Because of social changes, the marriage ministry became few and far between and the Sunday school now (Godly Play) found it hard to attract attendees.


In early 2013, the congregation decided to replace the wooden, fixed pews with church-chairs, allowing for a more flexible use of the sanctuary.


What emerged out of the changes of 2006 was a more ethnically diverse neighbourhood, from the rural community of the 1980s and previous.


One of the key supports to the community throughout the years was Sunnyside United hosting partner–congregations who became the "Sunday afternoon" church. In 1968, Peace Portal Alliance Church met here, before they embarked on their mega–church project now seen at the corner of 152nd Street and King George Highway.


Since then Sunnyside United as also contracted with two Korean Presbyterian congregations (in the 1990s), the Unity of the Valley congregation (2006-2013) and now The Church at Southpoint (Baptist, 2014-present).


Sunnyside United has always supported the South Surrey/White Rock Food Bank, now operated by the Sources non–profit organization. This church also is a supporter of Servants Anonymous Society of Surrey which gets young women of the streets and out of the sex trade. We also support the Oak Avenue Hub in North Surrey, as well as First United Church in Vancouver. We also cooperate with the other two local United Churches in the Thursday hot dinners at First United (White Rock).


In 2010, Sunnyside United attracted many South Korean families, leading to a two year English/Korean Bible study. Rev. Lyster also became involved with the Presbyterian Church in The Republic of Korea, as well as The United Church of Christ in the Philippines as a result. He also visited North Korea as our denomination's partner, The Korean Christian Federation, is located in Pyongyang. The multicultural nature of the new Sunnyside/Morgan Heights community remains a potential growing ground for our church.


As we face our own future as a part of the Body of Christ, we are thankful to the most recent support from Fraser Presbytery and BC Conference to help steady this place, and allow us some breathing room. We look forward to the next 20 years here to be led by where God leads us!


Music Directors

List of ministers at Sunnyside United include (* indicates lived in the manse):


The Clerk of Session is the lead–elder of the church, and engages in key leadership. In the years up to 2014 this office has been held variously by Alice Haskins, Vern Wilson, Cormie Robbins, Alicia Jones, Isabel Sokol, Heather Hardman, Arlene Gendron, and Joan Strutt.


The amalgamated churches of First United, Sunnyside and Crescent United Church are now known as Peninsula United Church and will worship in the Buena Vista location until the end of November 2017, when worship will be held at the 127 St. or Crescent United location.


Dedication of Memorials: on April 30, 2000 the Sunnyside United congregation dedicated five memorials, graciously donated to the church:

Cross in the narthex

In memory of Alice Wilson. By her cousin, Noelina Korody. During Lent in the late 70's, the Rev. Trevor Jones gave a series of sermons on the symbols of the Cross (crown of thorns, the cloak, nails and the Cross) The Cross was made by church members, Mark and Barbara Mikulec and has been carried into the church every Palm Sunday since. Ryerson United in Vancouver, June l0, 1985.


Narthex usher's table

In memory of Alice Wilson; donated by husband Vern Wilson and family.


Memorial board

In memory of Alec and Phyllis Dibben former elders to this church. (All plaques by request of family and friends only.


Memorial book

To keep track of our precious memories; in memory of Garth Defoe by wife Marj Defoe.

Rustic iron plant stand in the sanctuary

Donated by Marge Needles in memory of her mother Edie Needles. Edie was well–known for her bowling prowess in this church well into her '90's.


The stained glass window

above the choir was dedicated October 4, 1998 to the memory of Ruth McDonald by Peter and Enid LeBrooy of Vancouver.


The two bronze plaques

were dedicated to the memory of Charles William Colwill and Eleanor Mair, former elders to this church who passed away in 1957 and 1959 respectively.


The baptismal font

In memory of Leroy Plain was dedicated October 6, 1971, as well as a garden marker for him.


The Lectern

Is dedicated to the Glory of God in memory of Clare Arland by his loving wife, Rose Arland.


Pictures and documents were provided courtesy of Marge Needles



Next page: Christ Church

Return to Surrey's History INDEX

Copyright © 2017 Surrey History by Jack Brown


Terms of Use

View My Stats