Garden City United Church is described by members as a close-knit community of friends. So it was with a heavy heart that the small, 37-member congregation decided to permanently close the doors of the 98-year-old church in Saanich.
“In life there are endings and there’s death, and there’s sadness. But also, with faith, we carry on,” said Kay Bruner, 76, who’s been a member of Garden City United since 1985.
The decision to close the church was made in March. The last worship service will be held on Sunday, July 29, with a barbecue banquet to follow.
Helping the congregation come to their decision was Rev. Michael Brown, who was brought in two years ago as interim minister to lead the discussion on the past, present and future of Garden City.
“This is a congregation who is struggling with the numbers going down, and (Brown) helped us decide in what direction we’re going to go,” Bruner said.
Brown gives credit to the congregation for coming to the conclusion they did.
“Things were continually going down hill. They kept asking the question of themselves, ‘What does God want us to do?’ They were very theological about it,” Brown said.
The original church, built on the property in a day by the Marigold farming community, was a Methodist church until 1925, when four Protestant churches formed the United Church. The building that now sits on the site, at 4054 Carey Rd., was built in 1957.
“They worshipped in the basement for nearly two years until the sanctuary was completed in the spring of 1959,” said Brown, who previously served in Vancouver, Wash., and will return there once Garden City closes.
“They thrived in the ’50s and ’60s like most mainline churches. At that time, Sunday school enrolment was 250 with 25 teachers, whereas now we’re down to a couple teachers and most of the time we don’t have kids.”
Bruner predicts that the “sign of the times” – declining enrolment, mainly – won’t just impact Garden City.
“Church was very important in the ’50s, ’60s, ’70s, ’80s; things have changed. Quite frankly, I’m sure there’ll be other churches here in Victoria that will look at closing,” she said. “It was rather brave of our congregation to face the future and say, ‘Hey, we can’t do this anymore.’”
Garden City United Church’s assets will be split up and donated to four mission projects “to help them continue to serve the community,” Brown said.
Those recipients will be Our Place Society, The Mustard Seed, Camp Pringle in Shawnigan Lake, and Vancouver School of Theology on the Lower Mainland.
What becomes of the building has yet to be determined, but it will be up to the B.C. Conference of the United Church of Canada.
“The congregation is hoping that the building might be home to another faith community. However, it may be totally repurposed. We don’t know. It’s just life,” Bruner said.
“Life has endings, and then life has beginnings. Michael summed it up in his sermon last week entitled ‘Hello, goodbye, hello.’ It’s not ‘Hello, goodbye.’ There’s still life here.”