Disciples Church Extension Fund

Comox Valley Presbyterian Church (CVPC) never intended to go through Disciples Church Extension Fund’s New Beginnings process.

This congregation in Comox, British Columbia is a relatively new one, getting its start on Vancouver Island in 1995 and moving into its present building in 2001. Despite its young age however, in 2018, more members were leaving than were joining.

Rev. Jennifer Geddes

So when the Presbyterian Church in Canada phoned the Rev. Jennifer Geddes asking if her community of faith would be interested in being a part of a New Beginnings pilot project, she asked herself, “what do we have to lose?”

Since then, Comox Valley Presbyterian’s teaching elder/minister has seen her place of worship look forward to, instead of being concerned by, its future.

Comox, BC has a mild climate when compared to the rest of the country and six years ago, it was an affordable town to live in, making it ideal for retirees, as well as professionals like Rev. Jenn Geddes, who grew up in Hamilton, Ontario, to relocate to Comox. At the time, her faith community’s congregants were predominantly older adults.

After CVPC went through New Beginnings, an ecumenical service which helps congregations find clarity and embrace a new vision for their mission and ministry, it adopted a senior citizen-focused ministry to better serve the local population. Comox Valley set up live streaming for its worship services and hosted district-focused activities.

Then a global pandemic hit.

Congregants left town, went into assisted living facilities, and sadly, over a third of them passed away.

Through it all, CVPC did not lose hope.

“Since then, we have been able to shift,” shares Rev. Jenn, “using the tools New Beginnings gave us to reevaluate our community as a whole.”

For the people of CVPC, one of these tools was identifying their “why” and from that, their “who:” why were they continuing to gather with one another as a church and who were they trying to serve? Being able to answer these questions meant that the congregation could adapt to the changing demographic landscape of its town.

Membership Sunday attendees Amaka and Barbara celebrate their new membership

As Comox began to recover from the worst days of COVID-19, it saw a huge increase in its population as well as its ethnic and socioeconomic diversity. New Canadians, young families, and international students started moving in and CVPC was able to respond to their needs thanks to its New Beginnings training. It launched a support group for Ukrainian refugees and in turn, the group’s members cooked dinners for the congregation. A Nepalese family joined the church, performing dances at Christmas Eve services. Folks from Nigeria joined the church, too. Slowly but surely, CVPC’s membership increased (after running a deficit for a decade). Once again, it began to reflect the demographics of its town.

“Normally we have one membership Sunday a year, our anniversary Sunday, and we’re lucky if maybe one or two people join,” explains Rev. Jenn. “And they’re usually people who have been worshiping with us for years anyway. Last year, we had three membership Sundays!”

Rev. Jenn notes to congregations, that if their leadership is onboard, New Beginnings can inspire changes in a faith community’s structure. At CVPC, leadership positions are no longer lifetime roles, but limited terms, which recently allowed the church’s members to elect four new elders to their session, or what Disciples would call a core team.

“When it comes to administration, financial, and, even, custodial issues,” says Rev. Jenn, “this is the best team I’ve ever had.”

Three of CVPC’s most recent members: Georgia, Michaela, and Hanna.

As for the future, the church is looking to address the cost-of-living crisis that is making its town an increasingly unaffordable place to live and work. With three acres of land to its name, only half an acre of which is occupied by its building and parking lot, CVPC is exploring how to construct housing on their unused property.

“There is more of an openness in the air at church nowadays,” reflects Rev. Jenn, “and a celebration of who we are that I really think came out of us doing New Beginnings.”

Is your congregation stuck, disconnected from the neighborhood, or in financial trouble? Contact us to learn how New Beginnings can serve your congregation in the context of its culture and stage of life, helping it explore various options and make an informed decision about its future direction.


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