I met Rob outside Gospel Mission (Carrall Street Church) just before its second last service, Wednesday night (May 1). He was looking forward to gathering with the community, as he has for a couple of years now.
He seemed sorry to be leaving the familiar atmosphere and neighbourhood now that Gospel Mission is being forced to move – but not too upset, because he is clearly more attached to the people than the building.
“I used to do drugs,” he said, “but I don’t any more. They helped me a lot.” He grew up all round Vancouver and is currently living on the street (he says he has a secure spot up near Metrotown).
When the Gospel Mission community holds its first gathering this Sunday (May 5) at their new space, he will be present.
The Door is Open, run by the Catholic Church, has offered them space, just four blocks east of their current location, two blocks east of Main Street, on Dunlevy Avenue, right across from Oppenheimer Park. The Sisters will serve lunch, then Gospel Mission will hold their service at 1:30.
Gospel Mission chaplain Russell Chadwick told me that a group of seven or eight walked from the mission to their soon-to-be home after their May 1 service, to meet people at Oppenheimer Park.
He said, “That’s the character of the Gospel Mission Society – we’re very outgoing.” They shared coffee, iced tea and Cobs bread with some of the people living in tents – and one man welcomed him by presenting him with a gnarled walking stick.
Both the building and Gospel Mission have a very deep roots at the Carrall Street location. Here is a portion of what it says on their website:
The Gospel Mission is . . . the oldest mission in the city and the oldest in Canada. It has been in operation since 1929 and has been at its present location since the 1940s. The Gospel Mission, or ‘Pigeon Mission’ as it is known by street people, is in many ways an old fashion mission. . . .
The date of it being turned into a mission is sketchy, but people have been coming there since the 40s. The ACOP has had a mission in that area since 1929.
The ACOP (Apostolic Pentecostal Church of Canada) is not a particularly large denomination, but there are some 25 churches in BC, including Cariboo Road Christian Fellowship (Burnaby), Lynn Valley Full Gospel (North Vancouver) and Peoples Full Gospel (Surrey).
Mike McCardell featured Gospel Mission in one of his patented The Last Word segments (‘A Message of Renewal’) for CTV News just before Easter.
Noting that the house of worship is “being held together by some remarkably strong volunteers,” he concluded with these words:
The ex-drug addict minister, the ex-con helper, the reverend who left a quiet ministry in England . . . the sermon on Easter will be about being reborn, just like this crumbling church.
The reverend and the ex-addict minister are father and son team Russell and Wesley Chadwick. Randy Andrus is the helper, who joined them from a North Vancouver church.
Russell said he arrived in Vancouver from England just over two years ago, adding that he considers himself a chaplain, while Wesley came five years ago and is senior minister / director of the mission. Wesley himself struggled with drug addiction as a young man – “God delivered him from that.”
Russell is looking forward to their new partnership with the Catholic community at The Door is Open. Acknowledging that there are some significant differences in outlook (“we’re charismatic Pentecostals”), he said, “We’re very excited – we’re looking for enlargement, expansion, in partnership with the Catholics.”
The Vancouver Heritage Foundation has provided some detail on the building, as one of its ‘Places That Matter’ stories.
The article begins with ‘First Tenants’:
The small unassuming building at 325 Carrall was built in 1889, three years after the Great Fire and two years after the arrival of the CPR. Its first tenants at street level were the Vancouver Drug Company and the Vancouver Tea and Coffee Company, managed by W.A. Cumyow.
Won Alexander Cumyow was the first person of Chinese descent born in present-day Canada (in 1861) and an important leader in early Chinatown. He worked in a variety of businesses including real estate and retail, and became a court interpreter for the Vancouver Police.
Then covers ‘Louvre Saloon’:
After less than a year in operation, Vancouver Tea & Coffee Co. was replaced by a succession of businesses, including the Brown Jug Saloon in 1896 that was renamed the Louvre Saloon in 1897 when Reinhold Minaty moved over from the Old Fountain Saloon on Cordova Street. Minaty advertised the Louvre as having the only circular bar in the province and suggested customers “call in and lubricate.”
The rooms above the store fronts appear to have operated as a rooming house until 1898, when they are listed as the Louvre Hotel. This type of hotel was in high demand, providing inexpensive accommodation for workers, travelers and businessmen in what was then the commercial hub of Vancouver.
Fire insurance maps of the period show the hotel had six fireplaces when it was built. On the ground floor a variety of businesses including cafes, confectionary stores, barber shops and tailors came and went over the years.
And ends with ‘130 Years of Heritage’:
In 2016, demolition and construction at the site next door (333 Carrall) damaged the foundation of 325 Carrall and caused a crack running up the façade. The Gospel Mission and the community shower area they run in the building had to be shut down temporarily, and it took the mission six months to repair the shower area.
A developer now owns both 325 and 333 Carrall and as of June 2018, two new buildings (one five storey and one seven storey) are planned for the site. . . .
In April 2019, both the Gospel Mission and Wing’s Cafe will be closing, having been served their notices earlier in the year as the demolition of the building is set for May.
Go here for the full article; there is more to the story.
Drew Snider, who spent several years as a pastor at Gospel Mission, wrote an article (April 13 for Victoria’s Times Colonist) about its true significance.
A few weeks from now, an old brick pile on Vancouver’s Downtown East Side will come crashing down to make way for a new development next to Pigeon Park.
You may hear concerns about the loss of a piece of Vancouver’s history (it was built right after the Great Vancouver Fire of 1886) or continued gentrification of the DTES; but it also means Gospel Mission has to vacate.
For 90 years, Gospel Mission has provided basic human needs in the area. One of those needs is food, of course: dinners are served on most nights of the week; and since 2008, The Lord’s Rain has provided showers for people. But during the years I was assistant pastor there, it became apparent that the Mission and others like it fulfill another basic human need: a desire to be right with God
It’s human nature: we recognize we can’t control a lot of things, so we spend time and energy trying not to enrage a Higher Power. A Mission’s primary function, then, is to remind people how much God loves them. Many of the people I met were searching for confirmation that no matter how much they had screwed up in this life, God had not forsaken them.
Go here for the full comment.
Go here for the Gospel Mission Facebook page.