British Columbia

'The church isn't only about the building': Downtown congregation prepares for 2-year relocation

This Sunday will be the last service at St. Andrew's-Wesley United Church for a long time. The heritage building in downtown Vancouver is set to begin an extensive two-year renovation project and will be closed during that time.

List of repairs at St. Andrew's-Wesley includes a new roof, flooring, pews, wiring and seismic upgrades

Rev. Dan Chambers says the $30 million repairs are possible thanks to a piece of church property sold for redevelopment in the 1990s. (Margaret Gallagher/CBC)

This Sunday will be the last service at St. Andrew's-Wesley United Church for a long time.  

The heritage building at the corner of Burrard and Nelson in downtown Vancouver is set to begin an extensive two-year renovation project and will be closed during that time.

But amid the upheaval, officials are emphasizing that the church will continue. 

"The church isn't only about the building. It's also about what happens amongst the community," Rev. Dan Chambers told On The Coast reporter Margaret Gallagher.

The long list of repairs includes a leaky roof, replacing tile floors with stone, getting new pews and bringing all the wiring up to code.

Most importantly, seismic upgrade work must be done for the building, which was built in 1933.

Chambers says the only reason the church was able to afford the $30 million bill for repairs is because it sold its gym and common room 20 years ago. The land was developed into a 20-storey complex.

Chambers says without that money the building would probably have become the property of the city.

"I don't know what would have become of it," he said. "We wouldn't have been able to sell it because it's heritage and you can't redevelop it."

Heritage restoration for a number of artifacts inside the church will also take place as the structural work is completed. The organ, for example, is being sent to Montreal to be looked at by skilled workers.

Services relocated

For more than 80 years, St. Andrew's-Wesley has been home not only to church services but also jazz vespers and numerous other community art events.

After researching about 70 locations in the city, executive director Diane Mitchell landed on three willing to host the church's key Sunday services.

The Gothic-style church built between 1927 and 1933 was the result of two different congregations at St. Andrew's Presbyterian and Wesley Methodist coming together. (Margaret Gallagher/CBC)

Sunday-morning service will take place at the Century Plaza Hotel across from St. Andrew's-Wesley, the 4 p.m. jazz vespers will be at the First Baptist Church down the street, and the 7 p.m. music and reflection service will be at St. Paul's Anglican Church in the West End.

A multigenerational worship service on Saturdays will continue to take place at the salon at St. Andrew's-Wesley, which will remain open.

Chambers suspects there will be some degree of attrition due to the inconvenience.

"But there's also good energy and momentum that's happening because this is a pretty exciting project," he said. "That kind of connection and that kind of energy and involvement in the city that's going to continue no matter where we are now."

The final services in the building will take place this weekend. The restoration begins Feb. 4.

One of Vancouver's most historic churches is going on a pilgrimage. St Andrew's Wesley United Church is temporarily moving. 7:07

With files from Margaret Gallagher and On The Coast

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