Gabriola United Church marks centennial as a welcoming place

Rachelle Stein-Wotten

Sounder News

Monday, August 19 2013

For 100 years, the Gabriola United Church has made a tradition of being a welcoming place for people to find their spiritual centre and connect with the Christian faith, regardless of their background. It has also been an avenue for church members to contribute to the community and society on and off the island.

The Gabriola United Church in August 1913, with the original entry on the north side of the church, facing what was then the South Road. Both entry and road have been shifted as the current church and spire were built. Submitted photo

The church is marking its centennial with a special worship service and luncheon on Sunday, Aug. 25 beginning at 11 a.m., sponsored, in part, by Village Foods. Special guests include Dar Mace, an island glass artist who designed the stained glass windows in the church, which represent the seasons; as well as Islands Trust Trustees Sheila Malcolmson and Gisele Rudischer, Regional District of Nanaimo Director Howard Houle and Nanaimo-North Cowichan MLA Doug Routley. Heather and Bob Gray, the grandchildren of the original land donors, will also be in attendance.

Church board members Albert Reed, who has been a member of the Gabriola congregation for 20 years, and Cathy Tanner described the centennial as a “benchmark time.

“Thousands of years ago the First Nations people recognize[d] the area as a sacred area and did petroglyphs right behind where the church exists now,” Albert said. “One hundred years ago the people who preceded us recognized it as a sacred place to express spirituality through the Presbyterian and then United Church traditions.

“We’re celebrating the people of the past ... and we’re looking forward to what will come in the future.”

George Stenhouse came to the island to visit his daughter, Mrs. Robert Law, in 1912. In his words, “there was nae proper Kirk for her tae gang tae,” so he donated the funds to build a church, which was erected on land donated by James Gray.

Built 12 years before the United Church of Canada was established, it began as the Gabriola Presbyterian Church. Robert and Alex Law designed and built the little wooden church, with help from island families. According to the order of service from the church’s 75th anniversary, the first minister, Mr. A. Reid, and his family lived in the church; his daughter slept in a cot in front of the organ.

Strawberry Teas, which still happen today, and basket suppers at which the men bid on the ladies’ baskets, were some of the early activities.

Church members have ensured the last 100 years have been spent contributing to the community. 

Currently, the church sponsors lunch every Friday at People for a Healthy Community in partnership with St. Martin of Tours Anglican Church. The monthly Caregivers Support Group offers people who are caring for loved ones the opportunity to connect. Funds are donated to the Gabriola Elementary School and PHC each year as well.

The church also sponsors two children in Ethiopia and Guatemala, and through the United Church Mission and Service Fund, contributes to on-scene relief in response to emergencies and disasters around the world. Some members supported Occupy Nanaimo in 2011 by donating supplies and fund.

Albert said each of the church’s diverse outreach programs share “the basic philosophy of what we believe is the Christian tradition of helping people when they need help.”

He said the church offers something different for everybody. “Sometimes it’s a place of solace, and sometimes it’s a place of friendship and community ... and a means of reaching out to other people.”

As part of a shared ministry agreement the Reverend Joan Scandrett serves as the reverend for both the United Church and St. Martin of Tours, who shares the building.

The building has transformed from a small wooden “box,” which is still standing. Expansions to the sanctuary, a commercial kitchen and office have been completed in recent years.

Next month the church is launching a discussion group called Ordinary Wisdom.

“We recognize there’s an awful lot of people who have an awful lot of wisdom from whatever perspective,” explained Albert. 

Centennial celebrations continue into September when the Chamber Ensemble, which practices and performs in the church, presents a 100th anniversary concert on Sept. 28.

“The theme of [the anniversary] is a welcoming place,” Cathy said; “and it’s been a welcoming place for many people over many years and it continues to be for us.

“We’re launching into the next 100 years.”