Westside welcomed to neighbourhood; already open for cultural events

westsideinsideThree downtown pastors welcomed their fellow pastor Norm Funk and Westside Church to the neighbourhood this morning, during Westside’s first service at The Centre. Darrell Johnson (First Baptist), Dave Koop (Coastal) and Nelson Boschman (Artisan) were all on hand to demonstrate their support in person.

Though planted only a few years ago, Westside has grown quickly, and took over the former Centre in Vancouver for the Performing Arts (on Homer Street, right across from the Main Library) this summer.

MIxed reception

Not everyone has been as welcoming as the three pastors. When Westside tweeted “Welcome VIFFest [Vancouver International Film Festival] to the Centre” September 26, it was signaling its openness to the arts and cultural communities in the city.

entranceinside1But many observers had not expected that kind of welcome from the church. Responses from the arts community and the media were generally cool, if not hostile, to the news of Westside’s purchase. 

An article in the Georgia Straight – one of several such – alerted its readers to the fact that “Vancouver may soon have a large new church in the emerging cultural district.” Former city planning director Brent Toderian was quoted: “I’d say the loss of a cultural institution, a performing institution, is just that, a loss” – though he did acknowledge that some might consider a church a cultural facility. 

One hopes that critics will take note of the fact that VIFF movies were being shown at Westside even before church’s first official service. In an interview with CBC News, Norm Funk said he understands why people might be upset about a church buying the theatre.

“In losing a space like this, I get how that’s hard on people. Our desire is not to be exclusive in terms of what we do to just be for us,” he said.

Referring to the VIFF events (including a Q&A session with Breaking Bad creator Vince Gilligan, and the Goh Ballet production of The Nutcracker coming up in December), he added, “Hopefully, even though maybe there’s some reservations to us being here, we show that we are going to be good neighbours.” 

Church (no longer) at the Hollywood

 In the meantime, please spare a thought (and some prayer) for Church at the Hollywood. Out on West Broadway, it has paved the way for Westside in some ways. Since the congregation moved into the former theatre last year, it has found many creative ways to engage the community.

hollywoodOver the next month or so, for example, it will host a four-part ‘Architecture and Design’ film series put together by the Vancouver Heritage Foundation. Here is their take on the partnership with the church: “After great success [of an earlier series] in January/February 2013, VHF is thrilled to announce the return of films at the historic Hollywood Theatre.”

That’s the good news. The bad news is that the church’s lease will run out at the end of November, and a fitness centre will take over the building. 

A story in Metro News this summer – ‘ Revitalizing Vancouver’s former Hollywood Theatre a labour of love for West Side church‘ – pointed out that to prepare for move-in last year, “60 members came with mops, brooms and buckets, shampooing the red velvet seats and sweeping cobwebs off the Italian-made curtains.” They were hoping to completely restore the building, and had made considerable progress over the course of the year.

Unfortunately Church at the Hollywood, unlike Westside, doesn’t own its building.

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