History ~ At the Watershed
St. Paul’s at the Watershed ~ before and after 1984
In 1984, the Reverend Harold McSherry retired as the eleventh Rector of St. Paul’s and his departure marked a clear watershed in the history of the parish. For seventy-nine years, the parish had prospered in its location on the corner of Pendrell Street and Jervis Street. The handsome church building had been maintained in good condition and its debt paid off. A church hall that had been built alongside it in 1929 was extended in 1950. These premises became the centre of community activity in the West End, with well-attended services led by a large choir in the church and thriving groups like scouts and guides in the church hall. But now, the West End was changing around the church even though the parish remained the same.
In the 1950s, the old family houses of the West End began to be pulled down to make room for apartment buildings. The make-up of the population altered with the changes in accommodation and the population density increased to become one of the highest in Canada. Old-style families were replaced by single-parent families who were joined by previously unknown (or, at least, unrecognized) residents like homosexuals and unmarried couples living together. For most of these persons, St. Paul’s was perceived as irrelevant, if not invisible, and to some, passively or actively hostile.
Fortunately, the situation did not go unacknowledged. As part of the process of seeking a new rector, the parish was required in 1984 to produce a parish profile. The unknown author (or authors) of this profile document frankly admitted the lack of appeal that St. Paul’s had for the people living around it and the inevitable decline that could lead from that.
“[I]f the present trend continues,” the author wrote “St. Paul’s will be a reasonably well endowed museum within a decade or less. It will have a minute congregation within large and impressive buildings. Only radical change is going to reverse the decline.” This presented a dilemma, because to change existing forms risked alienating members of the congregation who would cease to attend. But, the author warned, “If the parish appears to turn an unfeeling face to the population of the West End, it will not survive.”
Nevertheless, the author concluded with optimism. “If its Rector is able to become acquainted with and be received sympathetically by the many community groups in the area, those people may begin to attend… Although St. Paul’s is going through a perilous phase, it has many resources, particularly in its physical facilities and even in its location in the midst of a heavy population… [Five] years from now, St. Paul’s Parish has a good chance to be an interesting and vital part of one of the most interesting urban areas in Canada.”
In the event, the optimism was justified. The Reverend David Crawley became Rector in 1985 and remained for five years until he was elected Bishop of Kootenay. His place was taken by the Reverend Neil Gray who had already served in the parish for two years as assistant priest. When he resigned in 2003, his place was taken by the Reverend Michael Batten as priest-in-charge pending the arrival of the Reverend Markus Dünzkofer in 2004 as the fourteenth rector. Under the leadership of these successive priests, St. Paul’s has met the challenge. As a re-invigorated parish, it has been able to serve its new community as the original parish once served its old community.
The quotations cited in this article are taken from a document entitled “Profile, St. Paul’s Anglican Church, Vancouver, British Columbia, prepared by the Canonical Committee, October, 1984.”