St. Andrew’s-Newton Presbyterian has a peculiar habit of moving west along 72nd Avenue. This church, whose congregation is celebrating its 100th-year anniversary this month, is a bit of a nomad.
Originally located at 136th Street and 72nd, on land that is today occupied by the Newton Cultural Centre, St. Andrew’s eventually moved to 132nd Street and 72nd in 1968, where a pentecostal church is situated today.
“There was a time when we were thrown off of that property because the city wanted the land, for a fire hall,” Barbara Koch, the church’s archivist, noted of the first move.
Completing its trinity of relocations, the church is currently at the southwest corner of 124th Street and 72nd, where it moved to in 1982.
If the trend continues, in 50 years time St. Andrew’s will probably end up in North Delta. And further on down the road, Koch joked, maybe even Ladner. That would likely take several hundred years more.
But let’s instead focus on the first hundred thus far, beginning with 1918. The year marked the end of the First World War, the Spanish Flu pandemic was raging, and Robert Borden – the fellow on our $100 bills – was Canada’s prime minister.
Rural Newton had a mail stop along the British Columbia Electric Railway, a one-room school, a community hall, a small general store, about a dozen small farms, the King-Farris Lumber Mill and, of course, Presbyterians.
St. Andrew’s church was founded by local families in 1918, but the first church building wasn’t built until 1924, on land donated by the Brydons. After the war, more people settled in Newton and many of them were veterans acquiring land to farm under the Soldier Settlement Board.
Among those who helped found St. Andrew’s were the Brydons, Mr. and Mrs. Sandy Jack, the Arthur Spencers, the Arthur Reynards, the Henry Reeds, Archie Sands, the Jesse Haslams, Lewis Jack, Ada Chapman and William Hall.
The church was a community hub and notably a baby clinic was set up there in 1924, operating one day per week.
“They had a baby clinic at this church,” Koch noted.
“That’s after you have a baby, you take your baby to the nurse at the church and she makes sure she’s healthy and gives her her first shots.”
Many members of the congregation worked at the mill, which by the Great Depression had finished logging in Newton and Green Timbers and set up in North Vancouver, taking many employees with it.
Still, St. Andrew’s persevered.
Reverend Geof Jay, who has been its pastor for 15 years, says currently the church’s average Sunday attendance is about 120. While many other churches are “dwindling,” he noted, “We’re hanging in there.”
“We range in age from just born to 90, so it’s a wide range of people and it’s very diverse,” Jay said of the congregation. “We have people from everywhere, from India, from Madagascar, from Kenya, Ireland, Sri Lanka, from everywhere. Dutch, Ukrainian…”
Though the exact date the church opened its doors has been lost to time, its members have chosen May 27 to celebrate its centennial.
“Our church family is so excited to be thankful to God for a hundred years of service to Jesus and our community,” Jay told the Now-Leader.
“We’ve had so many opportunities in our city to serve the community and we are going to have a joyous time and we’re also thankful for the past but looking forward to the future, to what God has us to do in the future.
“For our special church service, we are going to start the service with ringing the bell that was in our first church in the early ’20s and so it will be just a reminder of our history, and we’re going forward.”
“We’re going to ring the bell, like the old days,” Jay said.
New stained glass windows will also be installed.
The church’s bell has been in storage since 1982. It was originally used as a fire alarm bell in a lumber mill near where the Pattullo Bridge is today and had been donated to St. Andrew’s by Lewis Jack, who operated a general store where the Old Surrey Inn restaurant is now on 72nd Avenue.
Koch said the bell was rung, no surprise, on Sunday mornings.
“I do know that it was rung at 11:05 every morning, Sunday morning, to call to church and then 11:15 to say church had started. I found that up in some paperwork.”
Dave Gibbs, 85, is a retired elder. He recalled what led to the church’s second move, to its present spot.
“One of our elders, Ray Jansen, when they were located at 132nd, he was riding his bike and we were looking for a bigger location for a bigger church, and there was an elderly couple that lived in a house here and he said, you know, would you be interested in selling this property, five acres, and the guy said well yeah but he said I don’t want it to be developed. He said, would you sell it for a church? He said yeah, provided my wife and I can still live here until we die, which they did.”
Gibbs and his wife June, also 85, have been members of the church for about 30 years. They live in Royal Heights. June sings in the church choir. Asked what the hallmark of a Presbyterian is, Gibbs replied, “I think to be welcoming.”
Koch remembered attending Sunday school in the original church when she was about seven or eight years old. She and her five brothers and sisters would “march” down the highway to the church, she recalled.
“We would be sent down King George Highway from our home, little ribbons in our hair and a nickel in our glove. We used to have a nickel in our glove, for the offering.
“When I became a teenager I quit going to Sunday school.”
After a lengthy hiatus, Koch came back into the fold in 2006, she said, “because I needed to rekindle my relationship with Christ.”
Jay recalled greeting her at the door. He’s a pastor known to drive all the way into Vancouver through a snowstorm to visit one of his flock at their hospital bedside. You know, that kind of a guy.
“She showed up just out of the blue and just decided to come back to church,” he said of first meeting Koch. “So I brought her downstairs, found her a place to sit, and the lady she sat beside was her Sunday school teacher from the ’60s.”
That was Chris Burville, who taught Koch Sunday school. She has since passed on.
St. Andrew’s definitely has character. The church today is well-known for posting clever messages on its billboard sign. One of them even made national news, when the Vancouver Canucks were in the Stanley Cup playoffs against the Boston Bruins.
“The one that got all the publicity, because we got on Sportsnet, so it made national news, was, “Better save percentage, Luongo or Jesus?” Jay said.
“It’s hard to create something every week. Everybody drives by, everybody sees it. We get comments all the time.”
Although the messages are often fun, St. Andrew’s congregation takes its community outreach most seriously.
On the last Sunday of every month, the church donates to the Surrey Food Bank.
“Every month we take quite a pile of food,” Gibbs said.
The church also supports Positive Haven, an HIV/AIDS outreach program based in Whalley, provides food for Hellings Elementary School’s lunch program and other school supplies, and last month staged a church concert that raised $2,100 for Camp Douglas, a Presbyterian church camp on the Sunshine Coast.
St. Andrew’s is located at 7147 124th St. and Sunday worship service is at 10:30 a.m.