A Brief History of the New Westminster Christian Reformed Church
In the early 1950s, after World War II, many Europeans immigrated to Canada. They came by boat and train, often with large families, determined to establish themselves in this new land of “unlimited” opportunities.
Among these immigrants were people from The Netherlands. A good number of them were Christians from the Reformed tradition and they were eager to start a church in their new homeland as soon as possible.
In October 1952, a group of Dutch people started this church in a rented facility in New Westminster, hence the name The First Christian Reformed Church of New Westminster. After relocating to Burnaby a few years later, the name did not change, although attempts to do so were made several times.
In 1954, the church community purchased two acres of land on 12th Ave. in Burnaby for $9,500.00. At that time this area was not developed and there was no 13th. Avenue. A building was erected for just under $20,000.00 and completed by May 1955. At the outset it was decided that this building would have a dual purpose. The church would own the building and use it on Sundays for worship services. The John Knox Christian School Society would rent it and use it as an elementary school during the week.
In Holland, these people had attended Christian Schools and they desired that kind of education for their children in Canada. The school was operated and totally supported by the parents and this Christian community.
This arrangement worked well; although the original plan was to build a “real church” with a steeple on the same property. In 1961 construction of the present church started, done mainly by free labor. It was an attractive looking church at that time – a brick building with stained glass windows. The dedication service was held in February 1962. Since then, two major renovations have been undertaken, in 1979 and 1991, adding a second floor to our education wing, enlarging the foyer, and refurbishing the sanctuary.
In 1963, a smaller building, called The Beehive, was built to the west of the church. Rebuilt in 1995, now the main floor is used as a pre-school and the other two floors are used for Sunday school and various meetings.
Today, the sanctuary seats 450 people, has a Casavant pipe organ, a Steinway grand piano, and projection facilities. In the eastern educational wing are the administrative and staff offices, a kitchen, bathrooms, meeting rooms and a fellowship hall.
During the first 15 years, the congregation grew mainly through immigration and births. In 1969 the membership was at its peek of 1200. Already in 1962 a daughter church was started in Surrey and in 1969 in Coquitlam. In 1988 a group left to start the Orthodox Church in New Westminster.
In 1991 our church was instrumental in assisting to organize the Faith in Action Church, a Vietnamese church. To this day, support and close ties to this congregation and its pastor exist.
This sprang from our church’s involvement in the early 1980s in sponsoring many Vietnamese refugees. Our church resettled some 30 families and sponsored approximately 1,000 people. The church established an excellent rapport with the Immigration Department and New West Church became well known because of this.
In the early 1960s, when New Westminster still had an active harbor with international ships arriving regularly, a few people from this congregation started visiting ships there. This was the beginning of the Seafarers Ministry, which later continued in the harbours of Vancouver, Delta and Surrey.
Over the last few decades, as housing costs have escalated in our neighbourhood, many younger families moved into the Fraser Valley to find more affordable housing. Our congregation prayerfully discerned how we might become a church that meaningfully connected with our surrounding community and we recognized that an important part of that would involve the need to reflect the ethnic diversity of our neighbourhood in our congregation. A vibrant ministry to international students that began in 2010 began us on a journey of meeting and welcoming people from a variety of different cultures.
In the beginning the members of New West church were exclusively Dutch and mainly young. Today we have young and elderly members in our congregation plus members from at least twenty different nationalities worshiping together on any given Sunday. This diversity is well reflected in our staff and within the leadership of our congregation, and several fellowships are emerging where people can worship and pray together in their own heart language (see “Languages” menu item).
We are grateful to God for allowing us to experience a foretaste of Revelation 7:9:
“After this I looked, and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and before the Lamb. They were wearing white robes and were holding palm branches in their hands.”
We have celebrated our 25th, 40th and 50th anniversaries respectively with gratitude to God for His faithfulness, blessings and grace to our congregation all these years.
Burnaby, BC, March 2020