‘Remarkable Constant’ has been faithful, from Chinatown to Oakridge renewal

Holly Siu, a member of Vancouver Chinese Presbyterian Church since 1939. in front of a picture of herself as a child (over her right shoulder) and her sister, Betty Ho, directly above the image of their fondly remembered Sunday school teachers, Miss Wilson and Miss Yeandle.

In a time when the CBC publishes articles with titles such as ‘9,000 churches and religious spaces will close over next 10 years’ and ‘Majority of Canadians say church to blame for residential school tragedies,’ it can feel like despair rings in our church halls instead of praise for God.

We in the church can see things changing in ways we were not expecting. Yet God works unexpectedly, especially here at Vancouver Chinese Presbyterian Church. This year we are celebrating our new church building and recognizing the journey it took for us to get here.

A long journey

The journey began in 1895, at the corner of Columbia and Pender. Missionaries planted a seed; they had no idea if it would grow or not. This seed was Vancouver Chinese Presbyterian Church, a mission outreach to spread Christ’s love in Chinatown. These missionaries met the community’s need for language training, spiritual care and more – a legacy which has continued ever since.

The head tax levied on Chinese immigrants increased to $100 in 1901 and again to $500 in 1903. In 1923, the Canadian government passed the Chinese Exclusion Act – no person of Chinese origin was permitted to enter Canada.

These moves were intended to crush the soul of Chinese Canadians and could have been the end of the church, yet Vancouver Chinese Presbyterian Church continued to count on God, their remarkable constant.

In the 1980s, the seed of God’s love bloomed in unexpected ways. Parliament passed a motion recognizing “the contribution made to the Canadian mosaic and culture by the people of Chinese background,” and the church moved to Oakridge, increasing its impact on Vancouver’s society. The church expanded, adding a preschool and a Chinese Language School, along with ongoing work in faith formation from worship to Sunday School.

The new development includes both housing and ministry space. Just up Cambie is the massive Oakridge Centre project.

As Covid turned our lives upside down, we at the church turned over the soil to a new building.

This rebuild was largely driven by the City of Vancouver’s Cambie Corridor Plan, Phase 1 (2010) and 2 (2011), with the development of the Canada Line. Demolition began in January 2021 and was completed this spring.

The 18,000 square feet of the project are divided between housing (20 rental units), community needs (such as daycare) and ministry spaces.

In this new building, we have the opportunity to reassess the needs of our congregation, and of the community – which is changing dramatically with the massive development at Oakridge Centre Mall, just one block north of the church on Cambie Street.

We sit in between two SkyTrain stations in the middle of the massive housing development projected to bring in 25,000 more people by 2041. This is an ideal opportunity for outreach as we lean strongly into the ideal of praising God, praying and working to meet the pastoral needs of our community.

This desire to meet the community needs has us leading two Sunday morning worship services, one in English at 9:30, and one in Cantonese at 11:30.

We have also introduced Oakridge Christian Ministry – a mission of Vancouver Chinese Presbyterian Church looking specifically at how to support the Oakridge community – with a particular intention of connecting with our neighbours.

To us, this is following Jesus’s call for the two most important commandments: to worship God and love our neighbours as ourselves.

Representatives of the Presbytery of Westminster with leaders of the church. Photo: Ying Wai

Renewed commitment

Vancouver Chinese Presbyterian Church and Oakridge Christian Ministry gave thanks during a Thanksgiving weekend dedication service.

On our 128th anniversary, Ross Lockhart, Moderator of The Presbytery of Westminster, knocked on the door three times and called out: “Open to me the gates of righteousness: I will go into them, and I will praise the Lord.”

Songs of worship rang through our church halls. We all came together singing the processional song of ‘Great is Thy Faithfulness’ to remind ourselves that God is our remarkable and faithful constant in our journey and ‘The Church’s One Foundation’ to remind ourselves that our cornerstone of life is Christ, which is the true celebration.

Ross Lockhart, Moderator of the Presbytery of Westminster, handing the keys to VCPC Clerk of Session Adrian Wong. Photo: Ying Wai

As we counted our many blessings, the Presbytery, the congregation and Pastor Morgan Wong rededicated and recommitted ourselves to being a home with a purpose:

For the worship of God in prayer and praise;
for the preaching of the gospel of Jesus Christ, crucified, risen and exalted;
for the celebration of new life in baptism;>
for the gift of grace received at the table of our Lord;
For comfort to all who mourn;
for strength to all who are tempted;
for light to all who seek the way;
For the hallowing of marriage and family life;
for the teaching and guiding of the young;
for the perfecting of the saints;
For the sharing of Christ with our neighbours;
for the increase of justice in our public life;
for the healing of the nations.

Remarkable Constant

Jeanette Lee created a church ‘street’ to capture some of the church’s story. Photo: Jacqueline Cleland

The new building reminds us that God works in unexpected ways. As part of our commitment to gratefully acknowledging the continuum of giving and God’s provisions that will carry us forward and into the future, we partnered with the artist Jeanette Lee to tell the story of how God has continued to transform us and our church through time, space and people.

To this end, we made a church ‘street’ where we can walk through these black and white historical photographs, modern images, 2D and 3D artifacts, text and other materials which express our unique relationship with God.

As we walk through this church street of our lives and through the generations of people who helped build our church, we pay homage not only to those who have served but also to our donors who helped us develop and support our answer to Christ’s call.

The church ‘street’ on the day of the dedication.

This year, we want to share our joy and encouragement with our brothers and sisters in Christ. God is a remarkable constant in our lives and has shown us growth and blessing through our love of our neighbour in good times and challenging times.

When you hear of us, we want to encourage you not to see the building but to see what God is building in all of our churches. God is building in us all a chance to love, live and praise God, our one and true Remarkable Constant.

Jacqueline Cleland is Pastoral Care and Outreach Coordinator for Oakridge Christian Ministry, a part of Vancouver Chinese Presbyterian Church.

This article was from a draft submitted to Presbyterian Connection.

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