Three United churches in Chilliwack have truly been living up to their name lately.
As of Jan. 1, Chilliwack United, Rosedale United and Mount Shannon United churches came together as one entity and with it came a new name – Cheam View United Church.
They have been working on the amalgamation for two years. It comes as a result of decreased membership and financial hardships at all three locations.
“We really felt that if we didn’t do something to increase our congregation size and get the finances back in a good standing… we’re not going to be alive for very long,” Elizabeth Howe of the former Chilliwack United Church said.
Membership at Mount Shannon and Chilliwack has dropped by more than 50 per cent over the past 15 years, and by about 40 per cent at Rosedale.
But one of the biggest reasons for uniting was to do more outreach work as a team.
“All three congregations agreed that we could do more for our community together than separately,” Sheri Howe said.
And they’ve already started.
Over the past two Christmases, the newly named Cheam View United Church put together nearly 200 cloth bags filled with essential items for Chilliwack’s homeless.
Each church was doing its own outreach work before the amalgamation such as serving lunches to the less fortunate every Saturday, offering weekly “coffee chats” which are open to anyone, hosting dinner-and-a-movie nights, and bringing church services to seniors’ care homes. Now they’ll be able to increase services like those.
“We want to be able to leave a legacy to the community,” Elizabeth Howe said.
They hired three part-time ministers to help.
Rev. Doug Astle and Rev. Louise Cummings will be leading most of the services. Astle will also be responsible for pastoral care (for people in hospital and those needing someone to talk to). Cummings, who’s been involved in other church amalgamations, will be focusing on administrative work and setting up committees. And Rev. Connie Thompson’s focus will be outreach work and figuring out where the community’s needs are.
For the past 18 months, they’ve been holding joint services once a month, rotating through the three locations: Spadina site (Chilliwack United), Quarry site (Mount Shannon) and McGrath site (Rosedale).
Now they rotate weekly Sunday services between two of the sites every second month – they’re at the Quarry site for January and February, and then in March and April they move to the Spadina site.
There are no current plans to shut down or sell any of the sites.
Their first Sunday service together on Jan. 5 at the Quarry site under the name Cheam View United Church went “very well,” Elizabeth Howe said. The sanctuary was full with nearly 100 worshippers in attendance.
That day, one member from each of the three churches poured different coloured sand – pink, blue and white – into a clear, glass vessel simultaneously. The sand swirled and mixed together as the colours hugged each other.
Now that they’ve amalgamated, it’ll be several months of trial and error to find the right path.
“Nothing is set in stone,” Sheri Howe said. “[Members] have to give us a chance to get to know each other and get going.”
One thing they have noticed is a renewed spirit in their members.
They’re seeing a “re-energizing” now that the work is spread out more, said Doug Rutley. Members can focus their energy on one committee as opposed to three or four.
You can join Cheam View United Church’s next Sunday service at 10 a.m. at the Quarry site (46875 Yale Rd.).