Congregational History


The First Hundred Years, 1911 – 2011

1) Humble beginnings

2) The area

3) The first church building

4) The renovated church

5) The lost minute book

6) The vote for union

7) The declaration

8) Settlement of back taxes

9) Rev. D. A. Fowlie

10) Financial struggles

11) The Burn’s supper

12) The Youth Group highs

13) Communion cards

14) Death of the Clerk

15) After the war

16) The Common Era

17) The new building

18) The Rev. F. W. Metzger years

19) The illegal tenant

20) The new Christian Education Centre

21) Good news

22) The donated building

23) The call, finally

24) The St. Paul’s people

25) The Taiwanese

26) Picking a Pastor

27) A new pastor

28) User groups

29) The road ahead

The Records

The following was compiled by elder Ross McClelland from many pages of original notes by early writers and from the Session minutes and Board of Managers records.

Humble Beginnings

The city of Vancouver was incorporated on April 6 1886 and the south boundary was approximately where 16th avenue runs today. South of 16th avenue was considered forest and likely would never be needed or considered as part of the new city. Little did our founding fathers know about the desire to live in this most beautiful area of Canada and that in a short time it would be flooded with people from all corners of the world.

Pioneers came, economic migrants and refugees came and the city grew at an exponential rate. With this influx of people came the need for infrastructure, homes, schools and churches. Some of the earlier churches in the new city were stone but in the expanding areas of the city they were hastily built wooden structures usually built by the volunteers of the congregation itself. In reality of course the congregations worshiped in someone’s house until they were big enough to undertake the challenge of building their own church.

In 1891 much like the Sky train a hundred years later, the Inter Urban railroad, on it’s way to New Westminster was the impetus for growth in many clusters along it’s way. Cedar Cottage was one of these areas that had shops and even a post office among its boundaries.

The Area

In 1911 Victoria ‘Road’ was newly developed and growing quickly for the ever-expanding City of Vancouver. The streets were of course gravel but it had wooden sidewalks, raised to keep the horses and carts from interfering with the pedestrians.

The neighbourhood housing was usually two stories on small 33’ building lots and not every lot was built on right away leaving large plots of trees and virgin forest.

Much like any other frontier church the congregation of St. Columba had its humble beginnings. In 1911 Rev. J. C. Madill of Cedar Cottage started it as a mission and they met for worship in Tecumseh school which at that time was a one room school.

A young man, S. McLean recalls being the first student there. He states in a letter to Rev. Fowlie in 1938 that “The first Sunday I went there a young lad was sitting at a small portable organ, his name was Dougald Beswerethwic. The next Sunday they also had Mr. Bray with a violin to help in leading the singing.”

Mr. McLean then states they had to leave the school (presumably because a new school was to be built) and move into a store on Victoria Road.

This must have been a larger building or stock room and there they had two worship services and Sunday school.

This venue was soon not able to accommodate the growing congregation and the next meeting place was the “Manual Training Building” at Tecumseh school. —-  It appears to this writer that they moved back to the newly built Tecumseh school.

After two years St. Columba was reported as a student mission field with 39 members and it agreed to unite with Livingstone Church as a Home Mission Field. Livingstone Church was another Presbyterian church on 54th avenue and close to Kerr Street.

It is said that there were two hundred and fifty families of Scottish heritage in the area at that time. With their mostly Presbyterian heritage they provided a base to draw from and Church planting was a natural fit.

The First Church

The congregation grew quickly and soon was looking for a bigger space for worship or possibly to buy a lot on which to build a new church. A site consisting of two 33’ residential lots was obtained at 1796 east 45th avenue at Gladstone Street (which due to a later survey and realignment was renamed 2196 East 44th avenue).

With a lot of volunteer labour a small non-basement building was quickly erected and the congregation had their first worship service there on March 12th 1913.

From an article in the May 27 1915 issue of The Presbyterian I quote, “At the new year, 1913, church building operations began, and under Mr. D. Brown, and largely by volunteer labour, a neat little church was erected and opened for service on the first Sunday in March.

The opening services were conducted by Dr. E. D. McLaren and Supt. G. A. Wilson, followed on the next Sunday by Prof. Taylor and Jno A. Logan. Those in charge of this young congregation are Mr. Arch. McLean, who was missionary for a year from April 1912, to April 1913.”

It was the young newly ordained Rev. Archie McLean who had just arrived from Scotland that named the church St. Columba. St. Columba was his favourite missionary who came from nearby Ireland and whose remains are interred on the Island of Iona off the rocky west coast of Scotland.

The Second Church

About nine years later in 1922 the need to accommodate the growing Sunday school prompted the expansion of the new building.

The minister in charge was Rev A.G. McPherson who it appears came to St Columba a year or so earlier as stated supply.

A supporting quote for the expansion from the Jan 19 1923 minutes reads, “17 adherents and 5 members of other churches were admitted into the full membership of St. Columba on motion of Mr. H. Ross and seconded by Mr. Hugh McDonald”.

So the little congregation was still growing and it appears the volunteers were again mustered into a building crew.

It is not known if the new work was an extension to the original “neat little church” as the first church was described. So it’s presumed at this writing that the existing church was raised up and the basement dug out from underneath. The 1953 photo shows a large two-story building with a bell tower.

A note in the memoirs of long time member Kay Berry says that the bell tower was added to the existing church. So we have to conclude that the original church was raised and a full basement constructed underneath. The bell tower was added to the roof with the aim of installing bells at a later date, an ambitious plan that never materialized.

The Lost Minute Book.

When the renovation was completed is unknown but a clue is in the session minutes of March 14 1923. It notes “The old minute book having got lost during the alterations to the church, it was moved by Mr. McMillan seconded by Mr. Adamson, that a new book be purchased.”

The word alteration suggests that the building was extensively renovated in late 1922-3.

The Rev A. G. MacPherson was inducted as minister on Nov 27 1923 and served there until he was “transferred to St. Andrews Church, New Westminster” in the summer of 1925.

It is said that Rev A. G. was a handsome man and all the girls were at least hopeful, but were later disappointed when he and the daughter of Rev. R. G. McBeth, minister of St. Paul’s PC Vancouver announced their wedding plans for later in 1925.

The Vote For Union

1925 saw another challenge to the congregation when news came down from the top to hold a vote on whether to join the Methodists and the Congregationalists in forming the United Church in Canada.

The minutes of June 30 1924 notes that 250 ballots were mailed out to the members and adherents and of those that were returned a majority were in the negative.

For some reason this method of voting was not acceptable and at a congregational meeting on January 5 1925 the membership list was certified and of the 78 ballots cast 68 were against the union 9 in favour and 1 spoiled ballot.

The Declaration Jan 19 1925

“It was then moved by Mr. McDonald seconded by Mrs. Johnstone that this church goes on record as opposed to entering the United Church of (sic) Canada, but remains with the Continuing Presbyterian Church in Canada”.

Mr. McDonald, obviously a student of prudent church decorum, then declared that he was opposed to the enthusiasm that greeted the result.

Some of those in favour of the union left to attend Wilson Heights United, which up until that time was a Methodist church.

Settlement of Back Taxes

It seems that life in the late 20s and early 30s would not be considered as part of “the good old days” as finances were so tight there was a continual struggle to pay bills.

At a Board of Managers meeting Oct 7 1931 there was a motion “That taxes for one year be paid on the church property in order to save it from the tax sale”

Rev D. A. Fowlie

In 1938 Rev. D. A. Fowlie wrote to the board of managers stating that he was being short changed on his stipend by $40 and asked the board to look into this item “of arrears”

He stated that his rent was $25 per month and when he received just $40 as stipend the margin was very small.

The boards chairman Mr. A. Hurley in answering stated “the standing agreement was for all plate collections up to $50 be forwarded to the minister and that if $50 was not received in any one month the check (sic) would be for the amount taken only”. It seems that July and August were slow months even back then.

The next meeting records that Rev. D.A. Fowlie was transferred to Buchannan Church.

Financial Struggles

Other austerity measures saw the insurance valuation reduced from $4,000 to $3,000, which realized a saving of $3.50.

There was what seemed like a perpetual motion to buy a half ton of coal and a load of wood for the heating.

Without stereotyping their ancestry I can only say that the congregation was very frugal and always had a difficult time finding enough money to pay the minister’s stipend. This became more evident during the late thirties when the “Great Depression” hit. The ministers came for a short time and left and sometimes students from “Westminster Hall” filled in for years at a time. Westminster Hall was a newly created Presbyterian ministerial college at the University of British Columbia. In some circles the graduates from there were considered deficient, not having been educated at the Presbyterian Knox College in Toronto.

In Dec 1938 a letter from the PCC Toronto citing the indebtedness of the congregation to the above fund. “The loan has been outstanding for a long time and funds are greatly needed to assist struggling congregations.”

(I think someone was missing the point here.) The total of the loan was $1,350 and no interest or principal had been paid.

Another query from the Finance Committee of Presbytery states that “Your allocation to Presbytery and Synod Fund for the current year was $5 on which nothing has been paid.

Your attention to this matter at an early date will be greatly appreciated”.

Another interesting statement found was that “owing to low attendance there was no Sunday School in July and August” 1938.

The congregation continued to struggle through the highs and lows of church financing, which resulted in a lot of pulpit supply and very few years of having a full time minister.

While the total receipts for the church in 1938 was only $776.58 the activities held there were quite surprising.

The group headings on the annual report show there was a report from the; Board of Managers, Women’s Guild, Young Peoples, Sunday School, Young Women’s Society, C.G.I.T., Women’s Missionary Society, Boy’s Brigade, The Life Boys, and Mission Band.

A by product of this energy leads to a complaint by the Board of Managers that some doors in the basement were ripped off their hinges. It seems like the cliché “Boys will be Boys” was well founded back then as well.

The youth group highs

The 1930s were tough years but the people pulled together, it seems, for the sake of their kids. While the records show 20 to 50 at the worship services there were about 100 kids in Sunday School. Today we would say that the parents were all working, but we must remember that in the 1930s nobody worked on Sunday. So we have to look at possibly large families or while the records show a small number of communicants there was likely a large number of adherents that were not allowed or didn’t want to partake of communion.

The thirties and forties were good years for the youth groups.

The late forties were uneventful apart from the Sunday school being between 45 to 77 kids. Quite low considering the highs of 150 – 175 in the 1920s

The Burns Supper

One highlight on the social calendar for the Scottish people was the Burns suppers and it seems like this event was big at St Columba. The ladies were quite proficient at preparing this meal and at one time there were over 300 guests for dinner making three sittings necessary to accommodate the crowd. For Jan 1935 dishes were borrowed from St Thomas Anglican on 41st avenue. Of course an evening of Scottish entertainment followed and this social evening became big news around the city.

Communion Cards

One item that never escapes being noticed in the session meeting minutes is the distribution of the communion cards. These cards were a tangible sign that the holders were in good standing in the church, and as such were allowed to join in the communion worship service. The cards were distributed before the service and collected at the door as the members came in. Another item that doesn’t go unnoticed is, a few days before every communion service a preparatory Service” is held for the members and those preparing to become members.

Before the use of cards, the pass was a metal token and it has since become a passion for some members of the P. C. to collect these metal communion tokens.

Death of the Clerk and S. S. Superintendent

Mr. R. McKillop, was a respected member of session, who served as clerk from 1931 – 1945. Citing ill health he asked several times in his later years, to be relieved of his work as Sunday School superintendent. Both times after some discussion he consented to continue for another while. A few months after his last request a notice of his death on July 12 1945 is noted in the minutes.

This reminds me of the tombstone epitaph that says, “I told you I was sick”.

From studying the handwriting it appears that the minister Rev. J. C. McLean-Bell acted as moderator and clerk of session for a year before Mr. McKillop’s passing and that Mr. McKillop just signed as clerk.

After the War

The war years took their toll on the welfare of the church, draining it of manpower and finances to the point that to make session work assessor elders had to be brought in from neighbouring congregations. The late forties were fairly stable with Rev. J. C. McLean-Bell as Interim Moderator of Session until 1949.

It was this Rev. McLean-Bell that was quite bitter that St. Columba was not able to pay off the Presbytery loan they made for rebuilding the church in 1923. He was a strong advocate for closing the church but the stubborn members clung to the idea of maintaining their church where it was.

Rev. J. E. Sutherland was placed as Interim Moderator in the summer of 1949 and stayed until he accepted a call to Ontario in Dec 1950.

The Common Era

Moving into the common era, or the one some of us remember, is like, yeah, I remember that.

On September 10 1951 a student minister called Calvin Chambers preached the service. Rev. Chambers is now retired and is on the Appendix to the Constituent Roll of Presbytery.

Rev. McLean-Bell came back to moderate the session again and then Rev. Thomas Murphy was placed by order of Presbytery.

The fifties continued with interim moderators and pulpit supply and it seemed like the congregation was always on life support. Then the building began to crumble and repair became too much to handle. Eventually the city condemned the building so it had to go.

The New Building

On April 10 1957 comments were made about raising $60,000 to re build the church. But on Sept 1 1960 a letter was sent to Toronto (Admin. Office of the PCC) regarding a mortgage for $1,350 plus $100. This figure is too small for the present financing scheme so it must be an outstanding mortgage from the 1923 renovations.

With a concerted push by the Honorable Judge A. Manson financing was arranged with loans from various boards and the sod was turned on May 10 1961.

With construction underway worship services were held in the local community hall on 43rd avenue.

In the fall of 1961 the building was finished and the dedication service was held on the 28th Oct 1961

Usually there is a called minister in the congregation when a building program is undertook but St Columba was surviving on pulpit supply for many years before and after construction.

The Metzger Era

Dec 2 1962 is the first session where Rev. F. W. Metzger appears as interim moderator and on Feb 3 1963 there is discussion about asking the mission board about appointing him as minister of St. Columba and the nearby St Matthews.

Soon the session minutes became long on the things that needed to be done. A nursery was to be provided, infant and adult baptisms were quite common, delegates were appointed for leadership training and elder’s districts were established. A new high of 60 members took communion on Oct 2 1966.

On Jan 24 1967 after the AGM the session was informed that Rev. Metzger was now available for appointment. The congregation unanimously agreed to ask the Mission board to appoint Rev. Metzger as their ordained missionary. On June 1 1967 session was advised of Rev. Metzger’s appointment as minister of St. Columba and St. Matthews.

At a congregational meeting held after the worship service on Nov 19 1967 motions passed were;

That we respectfully request the Presbytery of Westminster to authorize and approve the speedy amalgamation of St. Matthews and St. Columba, not later than Dec 31 1967.

That the congregation petition Presbytery for permission to build a new St. Matthews Christian Education Centre on the adjoining property recently purchased by St. Matthews.

That the amalgamated congregations petition the Women’s Missionary Society to relocate it’s Christian Education to St. Columba and finance the building expenses of a new St Matthews Centre in full or in part from the sale of it’s present property at Nanaimo and Newport avenue.

At the Jan 2 1968 meeting of Presbytery they responded to St. Columba and approved the amalgamation of St. Columba and St. Matthews creating a congregation of 90 members.

After the morning service on March 16 1968 a request was made for $14,500 from the Women’s Missionary Society Legacy fund for the St. Columba church extension fund.

The Illegal Tenant

March 1969, Elders reported that someone was given a key given in error by a congregant and illegally occupied the house immediately west of the church recently purchased by St Matthew’s congregation. This person moved out when asked but was asked for a donation to offset the property tax he triggered by his occupation of the property.

A month later it was actually moved and seconded to sell the property but at the next meeting it was agreed to demolish the building as it was encroaching on the neighbour’s side yard.

Not long after that the building was demolished and the next round of appeals for loans and grants pursued.

The New Christian Education Centre

The continual push to build up the work at St. Columba got another boost when Presbytery struck a committee to work on the extension of St. Columba. The committee reported back on April 13 1972 and suggested that the church get building plans drawn up and ask for quotes from two or three contractors and asked also as to how the new building would be used. Some other suggestions they had were, to “ask for a Government Grant of approximately $10,000 with no strings attached” and approach the Vancouver Foundation, the Spencer Foundation and the Block Bros. Foundation. No word of these requests were ever recorded, so we have to assume they were fruitless.

The building fund grew slowly and it was decided to pay off the loans from the Board of World Missions. Even though this would set the fund back a bit it would look better to not have any outstanding debts. Finances seemed under control but then along came a request to join the campaign to raise $100,000 by Camp Douglas for their new extension work. Another hit came when the Board of World Missions informed the session to raise the stipend and travel allowance of their minister. The lack of finances dictated the speed of the developments so it wasn’t until 1974 that there was a break in the stalemate.

Good News

The moderator reported that the old mortgage loans had been paid off and the discharge papers arrived from the church head office in Toronto. Rev. J. C. McLean Bell could now rest easy as St Columba no longer owed presbytery anything, a position they proudly claim today.

The next piece of good news was a donation from a member of the congregation for $3,000 to be used as needed. It was reported that this amount tripled the balance in the church account.

The Donated Building

Not mentioned previously was a request to the City of Vancouver to donate a fire-damaged portable building that was one block away in the nearby Orchard Park housing complex. So it was with glee that on Dec 11 1974 the Moderator read a letter from the City Mayor Mr. Art Phillips that the building would be donated to the congregation of St. Columba. All they had to do was be responsible for removing it to the church property. To keep everything in proper Presbyterian order Presbytery was asked if the congregation had their permission to accept the building as a gift from the city.

The building committee was activated, permits pursued, the foundations formed and poured and then came the big move as reported on April 17 1975 by Nickel Bros. house moving company.

With grants to hire local craftsmen and donations of material and some labour everyone’s attention was then focused on this building to get it from a burned out shell to a useable state.

Like as never before the need for finances became more acute and requests for funds were plentiful. Four applications were put forward for a total of over $25,000, but no mention is made of how many were successful.

There was however some good new in this area. A $5,000 offer from the Westminster Foundation of Religion and Mental Health and a $1,000 offer from The Biblical Museum of Canada were made to the church. Both these entities belonged to Rev. Metzger and there were strings attached. Those being the Foundation could use the building for their counselling activities and the minister could house his museum artifacts in the building.

The work continued and eventually the “lounge” was turned into a fascinating display of tangible items that bolstered the gospel we had heard so many times but always had to imagine what the scenes were like.

The Call, Finally

Rev. Metzger had served in St Columba for many years, pushed the congregation to higher performance and had orchestrated this latest piece of building expansion, all this while being a supply from the Home Mission Board.

So at a specially called congregational meeting on Aug 24 1975 it was approved unanimously to extend a call to the Rev. F. W. Metzger to be their minister. His induction to the congregation of St. Columba took place on Feb 26 1976

Steady growth pursued these events and on Sunday evenings Christian movies and educational films and talks, took the place of the usual services.  Numerous Bible Studies occurred during this time. The major study was the Bethel Programme. This was an intense two year study of the Bible. Nine leaders from the congregation went to Madison Wisconsin for one week of intensive training and for two years almost everyone in the congregation was involved in the programme.

The St. Paul’s people

The arson destruction of St. Paul’s Presbyterian church at 18th ave and Glen Drive in 1976 saw about 19 adults and children transfer to St. Columba. Of those, Cameron Hart, June McNeil and Ross and Heather McClelland still remain.

In 1977 the preaching platform was raised a step and the front of the sanctuary got a facelift with new wood paneling decorations and sound equipment. A new carpet was also installed. The names of Ron Morey and Ross and Harry McClelland were mentioned in a vote of thanks.

Artifacts that came to St. Columba then were the Burning Bush pulpit fall placed and dedicated in the sanctuary on March 8 1981. The beautiful baptismal font then stood as a model for elder Ross McClelland to design and manufacture in 1986 a matching communion table and chair for use in St. Columba.

Part of the financial assets from the dissolved St. Paul’s congregation came to St. Columba and was used to purchase the 33’ lot on 45th avenue now used as a parking lot. The rest went to Langley PC and Coquitlam PC to help them buy property.

The Taiwanese

It could be said that the early seventies saw the beginning of a demographic shift in the makeup of Vancouver. This caused a high demand for property in the city, which made it difficult to go out and build a church like it happened in 1912. So at the regular session meeting on May 20 1979 a request was presented by Rev. Wen Yen Peng to use the lounge for a Mandarin language worship service for the Taiwanese people in the city.

This was eventually approved. The descendants of this group now form the ever growing VTPC and the BTP.

The demographic shift and increasing property values in the city contributed to the difficulty Vancouver’s younger generation had when they tried to live close to their home congregation. The flight to the suburbs saw an increase in the congregations there but sounded the death knell for some of the city’s  congregations.

Growth became static but the congregation grew spiritually even though there were resignations from the session and the various boards of the church.

In 1993 Rev. Metzger retired from active ministry and the search began to find another pastor for the flock.

Picking a pastor

One of the most difficult areas of congregational life is finding and picking a new Pastor. Electronics were not used as much back in the nineties as they are today. We can now use U Tube, Face Book, Skype, DVD, video links and many other electronic possibilities to help you get to know the person who will be to you, like, “closer than a brother”. A search committee was struck and did their due diligence which resulted in Murat Kuntel being nominated as our next minister.

On August 9 1994 Murat Halil Kuntel was ordained and installed as the Minister of Word and Sacraments in the congregation of St. Columba.

During Murat’s ministry we were all challenged to take the Alpha Course, and almost everyone did. This was such a success, the course was offered a second time. In the Fall of 2000, we adopted the Lighthouse of Prayer programme and used it a number of times in the first decade of the new century.

For a number of years some of the young people joined Murat in a contemporary music group that sometimes led the worship.

Henry Blackaby’s studies, Experiencing God and Your Church Experiencing God Together, were widely used after the Alpha series.

In 1998 a Korean outreach ministry was started under the leadership of Charles Ahn. The ministry grew for the next three years and left our premises to start its own congregation in August 2001.

In the spring of 2005 Pastor Joseph Qian approached the session with a request to start a Mandarin speaking congregation at St. Columba. He asked to use the premises for Sunday afternoon worship services and some mid week evening studies. The session was pleased to grant his request and hence the Waters of Elim Christian Church was born. We are happy to report that as of this writing they have a growing ministry and are still a vital part of the outreach in this community.

In December of 2006, we were approached by another group wanting to use our facilities, this time for a youth outreach programs. Youth Church started in January 2007 under the leadership of Pastor Rick Ellis. The group held vibrant worship/praise services for the next one and a half years. They grew rapidly and had to vacate our premises in March 2008 for larger facilities. We are pleased to know that they are now worshiping in a much larger facility in Surrey.

By the grace of God in early 2010 another group asked for the use of our building and Agape Renewal Ministry set up the first Canadian school for leaders and pastors. There aim is to train pastors for the vast mission field in their China homeland. They meet for worship at 6:30 am four days a week and study until mid afternoon.

The Road Ahead

Is again tenuous as the congregation survives on Pulpit Supply.

It is supposed that a part time minister is just as suitable for St Columba now as any time in the past. However, what once was a traditional English community is now mostly Cantonese with a varied mix of other languages. Yes it is a great mission field but it is thought that a bi-lingual minister would be most suitable in trying to reach the present neighbourhood.

Which ever way it pulls for survival, the congregation of St. Columba will have to rely on the grace of God, as did their pioneering forefathers a hundred years ago.


2 Thessalonians 3:5

Ross McClelland