One hundred and sixty-four years ago, during the Gold Rush, the Sappers (Royal Engineers of Her Majesty’s Armed Forces) built a church at Port Douglas, BC. The Sappers were quite busy as they’d built a church near Fort Langley and in Hope at about the same time. The church was named St. Mark’s and fourteen years later the structure was moved via First Nations war canoes down 45 miles of Harrison Lake to Fraser River Landing at the foot of Wellington Street and rebuilt on the site of Five Corners, Chilliwack. The year was 1873, and the Parish of St. Thomas was born. A resident priest arrived in 1877, a new church was built on the site in 1897, to serve the growing community and then moved in 1909, to its current site on Gore at First Avenue. According to the information card distributed at the November 18 Celebration Dinner, “the move took nearly two weeks and was made with rollers drawn by horsepower.”
In 1957, a Parish Hall was built about 50 metres east of the church building and on the evening of November 18, 2023, approximately 120 people gathered for dinner to mark the occasion of the parish’s founding 150 years ago. It was a joyful celebration and hats off to those who made it happen, particularly the 150th Anniversary Committee: Deb Alford, Deb Edwards, Jan Guretzki, Marlene Rodgers, Shauna Fortin, Sharon Tiessen, Gail Hampson, and Johanna Mdoe. All these volunteers were inspired by the leadership of their interim vicar, the Reverend Lorie Martin whose energy, enthusiasm and faith were the metaphorical knitting needles that brought it all together creating a beautiful two-day event.
The Right Reverend John Stephens was delighted to head south and east to his Parish of St. Thomas to participate in the festivities. He spoke briefly at the dinner about the incredible accomplishments contained in 150 years of ministry but reminded everyone that the most important thing is to move forward in sharing the message of the Gospels and to continue to strive to build-up God’s kingdom through faith in Jesus Christ. Also at the dinner was Chilliwack’s acting mayor, City Council member, Chris Kloot who spoke on behalf of the city to offer congratulations to the parish. Councilor Kloot had to leave a bit early to attend the Civic Fireworks display held two kilometres west of the church as the City of Chilliwack was also celebrating its Sesquicentennial the same day.
The Celebration of the Eucharist on Sunday, November 19 began at 10am and was well attended. Bishop John’s message from the previous evening that time doesn’t stand still, and that the life of the church continues was made manifest as he was to confirm five members of the congregation, reaffirm one member and receive another into the Anglican Communion. In his sermon he examined at some length the Gospel for the day, the Parable of the Talents, however toward the end of the sermon he continued the theme of his address at the dinner:
Today we are remembering the 150th Anniversary of St. Thomas, Chilliwack. For 150 years people have turned to this place as a grounding for their lives, for their living and for the best ways to invest in the abundant life. For 150 years people here have discovered that all of life is about a relationship. A relationship that Jesus described as loving God with the whole of ourselves and our neighbours as ourselves. And we discover this because of the font that we gathered around at the beginning of this service. For it really is at the centre of this and all churches. The font is the starting place that marks us as Christ’s own forever… and with that, with the water of baptism splashed upon us, we are making a commitment to become more aware of God’s investment in us and how we are called to live into that in this world. With the water of Baptism splashed upon us we are naming our relationship with Jesus. The same Jesus who told many stories, many parables, about the kingdom of heaven. This church has been grounded in this for 150 years and counting. Grounded in the kingdom of heaven and learning that God is investing in us.
This morning Joanna, Dennis, Tyler, Liberty, Myrtle, BettyAnn and Andrea will either be confirmed, reaffirmed, or received. This is an enormous undertaking. They are revealing to us that they are aware that indeed the kingdom of heaven that Jesus spoke about is known to them. They have discovered it. Not in the pursuit of riches (as in the parable) but in the pursuit of recognizing God’s gifts in their lives and our lives. They have discovered that Jesus came into the world, the Son of God came into the world, to show us and reveal to us that we live in the kingdom of heaven and it is beckoning us to pay more attention to God’s hope for us.