The Fiftieth Anniversary of St. Giles’ - 2003


 
             compiled by Rod Ferguson

 

Is marking time a futile thing?  Sometimes.  Especially when it is the equivalent of wasting time, or Waiting for Godot.  Recording history is no such waste of time.  It is how we remember what is important, what lasts or abides, what we carry forward for better or for worse.  We recall past glories even as we look forward to future successes.  We encounter the times of hurt and disappointment, and learn to forgive, and, perhaps, learn not to repeat the mistakes of the past.
    Most importantly, we remember people, the good folk who touched our lives with grace, with Christian love, with their passion for mission or justice.  Faithful examples of service, hospitality, mentors, friends and companions, inspire and encourage us all.
    There has been another companion on our journey, the Spirit of God testifying to God our Creator and to Christ crucified as the Saviour of the world.  This companionship has been discovered by many through inspiring worship and Gospel proclamation, thoughtful educational programmes, the witness of fellowship and friendship in Christ, and engagement in Christ’s mission and ministry in the world.
    What will the future hold?  I’m no seer.  I am confident, however, that if St. Giles’ continues to put mission and ministry to the community and the world first, God will prosper the work of our hearts and hands.  When we sometimes fail to be the best we can be, we can remember the past, and discover that we were almost never the best we could be, but God was faithful, and accomplished much among us.
                            Rev. Rod Ferguson
                            St. Giles' Minister - 1995 to 2005
 
 
A Brief History of 50 Years of Worship, Ministry and Mission
 
 
In 1993, Marie (Ford) Luttrell, a Charter Member, wrote a quite detailed account of the forty year history of St. Giles’, something for which we can all be thankful.  This document is still extant and easily obtained.  This history is a condensed version of Marie’s article, plus a review of the past ten years.
 
The early years.
 
On November 27, 1953, 12 relocated Presbyterians from across Canada met in Craftsmen Photographic Studios on George Street and petitioned the Presbytery of Kamloops to establish a Presbyterian Congregation in Prince George.  An earlier Presbyterian congregation (Knox) had entered church union in 1925, thus becoming a part of the United Church of Canada.  Continuing Presbyterians are a stubborn lot, and the United Church just wouldn’t do. Besides, post-World War II immigration, particularly from Scotland and Holland, was adding to Presbyterian numbers throughout Canada.
Earlier that summer, the late, great Dr. Allan Farris, subsequently Professor of Church History and Principal of Knox College, Toronto, made an “exploration” of a renewed Presbyterian witness in Prince George.  Dr. Farris was only the first in a series of outstanding, even legendary, Presbyterian ministers who helped in establishing the work in Prince George.
On December 6, 1953, at the request of the Presbytery, and with the approval of the Board of Missions, the tall, imperious looking, though friendly, Rev. W. Oliver Nugent, Superintendent of Missions for the Synod of Alberta arrived in Prince George for an official visit.  He arrived by CNR from Edmonton and stayed at the MacDonald Hotel, the newest in a community of 10,000 people.  He conducted a service of worship in the photography studio, with chairs borrowed from a café across the street and a portable pump organ borrowed from a Mr. Campbell, the Baptist minister.  He returned twice more that winter.

The Rev. Alex MacSween, minister in Kamloops, was appointed Interim Moderator by the Presbytery.  Two of his elders from Kamloops acted as an assessor Session.  Working with the Board of Missions, the first minister was appointed, the Rev. John A. Johnston who arrived in May of 1954. The first service under John’s leadership was held in the basement of a converted army building on Melville Street.  The church office was within the offices of Carmichael and Luttrell, Realtors.  During Dr. Johnston’s year as minister, 25 new members were received and 25 children baptised. John Johnston went on to further studies at Princeton Theological Seminary in June of 1955.  John then continued a distinguished career, and in retirement, established the National Presbyterian Museum in St. John’s Presbyterian Church, Toronto.
The Rev. James Evans, his replacement had just arrived back in Canada from post-graduate studies in Edinburgh, Scotland.  Unable to find housing in the rapidly growing Prince George, the Evans were obliged to spend their first winter in two rooms of the Northern Lights Motel.  That year, pews and used furniture for the church arrived from First Presbyterian Church, New Westminster, and an architect hired to complete the main part of the church on Melville  A daughter arrived, the first child of the manse to be born in Prince George (some manse!).  Having no car available to him, Jim was nonetheless able to complete his visiting on foot, something that would be impossible today with the city’s expansion.
  Funds were in short supply at St. Giles’, and Jim was forced to request the help the help of Alex MacSween, saying that they owed the grocer and the motel “and couldn’t put together a plugged nickel”.  Could he be paid on the first of the month?  In the meantime people came and went and the church grew slowly.  Jim went on to Nanaimo, having a distinguished career (characteristic of those early ministers), including time as General Secretary of the Board of Ministry.  His last charge before retirement was as the minister of St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Church, King Street in Toronto.

His successor, the Rev. Dr. Donald Corbett, just as distinguished in ministry, becoming Principal of Knox College served from 1957 to 59.  The Annual Report for 1958 reported the intention to purchase property for a new church and to build a manse, which was completed in September of 1959.
 
The middle years.
 
The early 1960’s under the Rev. Bruce Will, a new graduate from Knox College, and his young family, then the Rev. John Balsdon, who was warned by someone as he was preparing to come to St. Giles’ of “a number of evil spirits at loose among (the many good people at St. Giles’), that seem to rear their heads at the most unfortunate times, and the Rev. Jim Hutchison, the church made steady progress.  
                                                               
    The 10th Anniversary year, 1963 was eventful and challenging.  The city indicated its wish to expropriate the Melville Street land. Jim Hutchison was instrumental in negotiating a new deal with the city.  First Baptist Church under the Rev. Lance Morgan invited the Presbyterians to worship with them until the new church building was completed.  This proved to be a blessing to both congregations and the time is remembered fondly by those present at the time.  By the end of 1963, the membership of St. Giles’ had reached 100 for the first time.
    1966 proved to be a year of crisis and change.  The new building was dedicated by the Moderator of the General Assembly, the Rev. J.A. Monro on January 6.  In April, Jim Hutchison accepted a call to New Westminster.
By summer the church finances were desperate, even to the point where closure was being considered.  The strong leadership of wonderful people like Ken Luttrell and Nora Bester turned the tide, and St. Giles’ continued its witness to Prince George.

    Prince George was booming in 1966. The highway to Jasper was under construction, Woodward’s Department Store was about to open, and the Rev. Ian Morrison was in Montreal preparing to begin his ministry at St. Giles’. Weekday programming was going full strength, including the Ladies Group and the Women’s Missionary Society.  But the congregation was also labouring under much debt, and fundraising occupied much of people’s time and efforts..  In 1968, Mrs. Joan Grainger became the first woman to be elected and ordained as an elder at St. Giles’. Joan went on to become the Representative Elder to the Presbytery of Kamloops and Presbytery Clerk, a position which she holds to this day. 
    Annabelle Wallace, the Presbytery Deaconess (now ordained and minister of St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Church, Saskatoon) was a large part of life at St. Giles’ in these years, being involved in church school and youth work.  Hers was an energetic and life-giving presence and she is remembered fondly.
Ian Morrison wrote in the 1971 Annual Report that the congregation had become “a very positive thinking, feeling and acting congregation and the St. Giles’ began to think of establishing the goal of becoming self-supporting.  In the summer of 1973, Ian accepted a call to Central Presbyterian Church, Vancouver.  Ian was later called to the Church Offices in Toronto and presently serves as General Secretary of the Life and Mission Agency.
 
A Major Ministry
 

    A service of ordination on October 21, 1973 began the Hans Kouwenberg era at St. Giles’.  Under the leadership of Hans and his wife, Colleen, St. Giles became a significant Christian congregation in the life of Prince George.  Hans’ hard work and dedication to ministry won the respect and admiration of the whole community.  1975 brought self-support to St. Giles’.  Many congregational programmes were implemented, including congregation retreats, adult Sunday School, and much more.  In 1980, a second service was established.  Contemporary worship suited many who were coming to St. Giles’ from non-Presbyterian and more charismatic origins.  These two services continued until the mid-nineties when the traditional service became very small. Hans was noted for his diligence as a caring and compassionate pastor.  In many ways, St. Giles’ was the centre of not only of his vocational life, but his social life as well.
In the community, Hans was active in the Ministerial, was a founder of Cedars Christian School, serving as Chairman of the Board for 10 years., and involved in the establishment of a Christian counselling centre in Prince George.
    Jim and Louise Walton arrived in Prince George in 1984. Jim took up the task of youth work as part
 of congregational outreach.  Their youthful energy affected everyone’s lives.  Street people, the unchurched, inmates of the Youth Containment Centre all became foci of ministry under Jim’s leadership.  Sadly, the Walton’s left for Ontario in 1991.  Jim and Louise are back in BC, with Jim now a lay minister at Richmond Presbyterian Church.
    Hans was able to complete work on a Doctor of Ministry degree at Fuller Theological Seminary in California in the midst of his busy schedule.  He also served the wider church in many capacities, being twice Moderator of the Presbytery of Kamloops, Clerk of the Synod and its Moderator once.  He served many committees and boards of the National Church.
    He was called to Calvin Presbyterian Church, Abbotsford, BC, in 1993, where he continues to minister.  Hans is also the present Chair of the Board of St. Andrew’s Hall in Vancouver.  The congregation is pleased that Hans was able to be the Guest Preacher at the 50th Anniversary celebrations.
 
The Present Era.
 

    After a twenty-year ministry, the Presbytery and congregation felt an intentional interim-ministry would be appropriate. The Rev. Betty McLagan of Vancouver was available and arrived in July of 1993, presiding over the activities surrounding the 40th Anniversary.  The Rev. Ian Morrison was invited to return as the Anniversary speaker.
    Under Betty’s tutelage, Committees were re-established or re-invigorated, and the pain of the end of a long ministry dealt with.  Things were put in order for the calling of a new minister.
    On March 1, 1995, the Rev. Rod Ferguson, who was then serving as an interim minister in Sylvan Lake, Alberta arrived to begin his ministry.  He and his wife, Jo, are still at St. Giles’ as the 50th Anniversary is being celebrated. Rod is the first “seasoned” minister to be called to St. Giles’, apart from the appointment of Betty McLagan as an interim.  Rod, will end his career at St. Giles’, rather than start it. He trained at the Presbyterian College in Montreal, had previously served charges in Ontario, Saskatchewan and Alberta.  He also has served the wider church in many capacities.

    In the first year after Rod and Jo’s arrival, Rod asked the Session and congregation to appoint Sandy Jenvey as an Associate for Education and Youth.  Sandy’s faith, many talents, training, and strength of character make her an ideal compliment to Rod’s ministry.  Her job description and hours have changed and evolved over the years.  She is presently serving as Music Associate.  A major achievement of Sandy’s was to introduce the concept of Young Children and Worship and their worship centres to the Christian Education Programme.  Sandy is a Certified Music Practitioner, using her gifts to bring healing and comfort to the ill and dying. 
    An opportunity arrived for Sandy to “pass off” youth ministry with the arrival of Steve Filyk in our midst.

  Steve was a recent graduate of the University of Alberta and a committed Christian.  Youth work prospered under Steve’s leadership.  It also led to Steve discerning a call to ordained ministry within the Presbyterian Church in Canada.  He is presently in his second year of studies at The Presbyterian College, Montreal.
    Some of the highlights of recent years include the reduction to one service in December of 1995, with a new time of 10:15 am.  A form of “blended” worship – contemporary and traditional – has evolved.  In September of this year, 2003, a new second service has been established experimentally.  It is an interactive service which combines elements of worship with Bible study.  This service is a 9:00 am, and the regular service is at 10:30 am.
    Rod was very interested in hiking in the Rocky Mountains.  A number of trips with youth proved popular.  But many adults wanted in on the experience, and a number of Adult Hikes were arranged.  Reflective meditations on scripture and the day’s events around a camp fire brought the day to an end.  Rod is also working on a book about the spiritual experience of hiking relating it to the seven days of creation.  Rod claims that he is getting a little old, however, to be leading hiking trips.
    Pastoral care needs became an issue and in 1997 a programme called Stephen Ministry became a part of the St. Giles’ experience.  This programme involves 50 hours of training for lay people to give intentionally Christian care-giving.  The ministry is delivered one-on-one, woman-to-woman and man-to man, all in complete confidence.  Lynda Bateman and Dawn Perkins trained as Leaders in July, and that fall trained the first class of Stephen Ministers.  The next year Rod Ferguson and George Thacker trained as Leaders.  In the year 2000, Harold and Martha Gail Dawes trained and this year, 2003 Al and Linda Rempel took their training in California.  Many people have been assisted through difficult times by their Stephen Ministers.
    A committee revision, now called Commissions, was done (what else is new?).  Committees only work as well as those who lead them.  The structure is intended as a simplification of the process.  Administratively, Rod is a far more “hands off” person than many ministers, believing that the fundamental ministry of he church must be lay-driven.  He tends to lead by encouraging creativity and vision.

 A delightful addition to the St. Giles’ experience has been the presence of Harry and Larry (a.k.a. Lynda Simons and Dinah Lainey), clowns in the guise of church caretakers.  Their zany antics, bad jokes, dancing and lip-syncing, special friend Sparky, obvious joy and transparent faith have delighted children and adults alike.  They have been featured in the Presbyterian Record, speakers at the Banff-Jasper Conference, and, most recently, the featured speakers at 2003 meeting of the Synod of British Columbia.
Perhaps the most significant occurrence in Rod’s ministry was the decision to do major renovations of the building.  A small committee was struck, an architect, Tom West, was engaged, a plan drafted in three phases, two of which were carried out in 1998.  Making good use of the Building Fund established during the “Hans” era, plus some church guaranteed loans, the sanctuary lighting and balcony seating were vastly improved, and the platform area increased. Sound baffles made the church hall acoustically usable, and a new floor was laid.  The kitchen was enlarged and new appliances purchased.  The creaking and leaking cross no longer creaks, or leaks, thanks to being completely tightened from top to bottom and a new flat roof constructed in the centre of the building.  Thanks to Nora Bester, the cross is also now illuminated at night.  New church offices were put in place on the ground floor, and the old church office became the youth room.  The Luttrell lounge was relocated – though not yet renovated.  The old lounge has become the Servery. A new tile floor greets all who enter the building.
    More renovations are being planned, but money, as always, is the main hold up.
    Rod Ferguson sees two mission events as critical in focussing the congregation’s sights beyond itself and towards the mission and ministry of Christ.  These are the two visits by Janna Plewes to Ethiopia and the subsequent building of a school in southern Ethiopia which will be completed this fall, and the visit by Steve Filyk to Cambodia to help build a community centre.  Both travelled under the auspices of Hope International.  The funding was raised locally.  These two faithful young people inspired everyone with their enthusiasm and their compassion.
    The outreach to people in need has increased on several fronts, and the congregation has been generous in supporting many missions and many needs.   Robert Witt has done a masterful job of organizing our food bank (and the library), and the congregation has been very generous in their support of the Benevolent Fund.  Colin Blair and the Soup Bus crew continue to faithfully prepare soup and sandwiches for hungry street people.  The demands for these services only increase in an era of high unemployment and government cutbacks.
    These are things that will carry us into the future.  These are not halcyon days for church in Canada, or for the faith. But God is faithful and God always raises up faithful people to be witnesses to grace and salvation in Christ.  He has done that with Presbyterians and others at St. Giles’ in Prince George, and he will continue to do that for another fifty.  We have all been blessed by the faithfulness of God; let us pray that we remain faithful
 
Rod Ferguson - 2003

 
IN MEMORIAM
 
The above history is dedicated to the memory of two Charter Members who passed away since the 40th Anniversary.  To the best of our knowledge, only one Charter Member survives, Helen White, now of Kelowna.
 
        Nora (Wilcox) Bester     -     August 21, 1999
        Marie (Ford) Luttrell      -     November 24, 2001