Rev. Michael McGee and Evelyn Tapio are helping celebrate St. Helen’s Anglican Church’s 100th anniversary this weekend. Tapio was baptized at the church in 1922.

A century of spiritual service

St. Helen’s Anglican Church honours its 100-year history

In the beginning, early in the last century, the South Westminster area was a place of hard-working dock men, millers, fishermen and their families.

One hundred years ago this week, those pioneers, after clearing the thick woods in the area, began their spiritual services at a new church, St. Helen’s Anglican, at what is now 108 Avenue and 128 Street.

The first celebration worship took place on Nov. 26, 1911.

Evelyn Tapio (nee Pawson), 89, was there just over a decade later.

The New Westminster woman was baptized at St. Helen’s in 1922, 89 years before this weekend’s newest baptism and celebration of the church’s 100th anniversary.

“I was born in 1922 and had two brothers and two sisters and we all got dressed up and came to church every Sunday morning at 10 o’clock,” she recalls.

Over the years, she met her husband at a church basketball game, took her kids there (the three Sunday school buses in the 1950s were named Faith, Hope and Charity), and now visits her late husband’s gravestone in the church cemetery.

Although Tapio and her family moved away after she got married, they came back to the Lower Mainland in September.

Photo: The church in its first decade.

“We decided right way to come back to St. Helen’s Church – it was one of our first drives back into the community,” says her daughter Marie Matzhold during visit inside the church. “It has so many memories.

“I remember sitting in the pew right there looking at the stained-glass windows. Mum remembers her brother (now 91) who was an alter boy here.”

Over the years, while there have been major changes to the rectory and hall, the church building has remained largely the same – an Anglican design used by the architect of St. Oswald’s Church in Port Kells.

The only major structural change was the beacon, a lighthouse-like fixture at the top of the building that was changed to a bell tower in the late 1940s.

“St. Helen’s has a unique place in Surrey, says Anglican minister Rev. Michael McGee. “We’re actually one of the four congregations that worship here.”

The other groups that use the building are Mar Thoma (an East Indian church), a Presbyterian-Korean church and a Mennonite-Japanese church.

About 100 people come for Anglican services each Sunday nowadays – a multicultural and younger mix that is bringing numbers up from the 50 or so when McGee arrived in 2003. (The peak of more than 200 was several decades ago.)

McGee says Tapio represents the foundation of the church, which was largely Caucasian.

“It’s not really the ethnic makeup of the congregation anymore,” he says.

Anglican congregants have immigrated from Africa, Sri Lanka, the Philippines Jamaica the former Burma.

Diane Richards, who works in the lay ministry, says that although the congregation has taken the time to appreciate its first 100 years, the church is looking forward to its second century, particularly when it comes to doing community outreach and charity work.

Examples she gives are the church’s Karen refugee sponsorship drive and helping the Surrey Food Bank’s Tiny Bundles program.

“It’s like it’s a new beginning as well as a celebration of something that has happened. We’re doing good things when we can find them,” says Richards.

St. Helen’s Anglican Church (10787 128 St.) will hold a candlelight prayer service on Nov. 26 at 7 p.m., followed by a celebration of baptism and 100th anniversary of the church on Nov. 27 from 10-11:30 a.m. Bishop Michael Ingham will be a guest preacher. For more information, email churchoffice@shawbiz.ca

bjoseph@surreyleader.com

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