A lot has obviously happened over the course of 125 years in the community and it was all cause for a big celebration Saturday afternoon at the Calvary Baptist Church on River Road in Chemainus.
There was live music, games for kids and adults, a bouncy castle, hot dogs, cupcakes and great fellowship to mark the occasion while the weatherman fully cooperated with a picture-perfect day.
The origins of the church locally go back to 1897.
The current church property consists of 14.25 acres and that luxury made it the ideal location for a family-oriented fun-filled celebration. The property was purchased in 1979 from John Plester.
Construction started in 1983 and in the fall of 1986 the congregation moved from the previous Esplanade Street location to River Road. The Esplanade site now houses the Steeples assisted living complex across from the Chemainus Health Care Centre and has the original steeple within its structure.
There have been many pastors at Calvary Baptist in a century and a quarter of service as you would expect.
Some stayed for very short periods of time while others had long periods of service.
The longest serving pastor at 30 years is Rev. A.E. Cook from 1910 to 1940. Current pastor, Rev. Edgar Unrau, already has the second longest period of service at 12 years from 2010 to the present and he isn’t planning on going anywhere soon.
“I’m not a believer in jumping to different churches,” said Unrau, 51. “My dream job long ago was to be a pastor in a small town.”
Unrau grew up in Niverville, Manitoba, south of Winnipeg. After attending seminary for three years, he was the pastor at one church for eight years before coming to Chemainus.
“I preached here once when I was in seminary,” Unrau pointed out.
He had a friend who knew current church elder Greg Hollett and then the search committee contacted him about the posting. Unrau got the job and instantly became part of a rich church history.
“It is my dream job,” he stressed. “The church we have today, this is the best it’s ever been. I can truly say I love these folks. I wouldn’t want to be anywhere else right now.”
There are about 100 parishioners at the church at the moment and the number obviously fluctuates from the deaths of senior members and the influx of newcomers.
“We have quite a few new folks,” Unrau noted.
The church has long been influential in so many lives.
Alice Mills is the current longest living member at 101 years old and she’s been connected to the church since 1966. Gerry and Betty Warmenhoven are the second longest living members and came into the church in 1967.
The Warmenhovens were away for a while at a lighthouse on the west coast starting in 1989 before returning in 1998.
“It’s been in waves up and down,” said Betty Warmenhoven. “People come and go. You find out later, they come back. It’s how families work.
“Lots of changes in the last year due to COVID. We’ve lost a lot of dear friends. Right now, looking around the church a lot of young families are coming in so the cycle keeps moving.”
Elder Hollett has done it all through the church, beginning at the age of three with only a brief hiatus during his teen years while busy with school, hockey and other things typical of the age group.
“I sang in the choir and my sister directed it,” Hollett recalled.
He was only 10 at the time but “anybody my sister could drag out there, she did,” he laughed.
Going to church just became a big part of his life and was important in his family.
“We’d go every Sunday,” Hollett added. “If we were out of town we’d still go to church somewhere.”
His early years were spent at the Esplanade location, but he remembers a little house on Fir Street serving as the church site. For the big move to River Road, he credits Bruce Haskins, the pastor from the mid-1970s into the ’80s for having the vision.
Outreach programs through the church have provided many opportunities for youth. “Calvary Baptist Church has always been community-minded,” Hollett indicated.
One of the programs he’s proud of is a hockey camp that involved many members of his family in conjunction with Athletes In Action and ran for about 20 years.
“Kids came and stayed in the building,” Hollett pointed out.
It was then just a short trek down the highway to Fuller Lake Arena for ice sessions.
“Mostly, it was local kids, but kids came from other places,” Hollett said. “We shared the message of hockey through Jesus.”
There’s also been a lot of music festivals and day camps over the years, with a sports day camp on the agenda this year again for one week in August.
Mom’s Morning Out was run by Joan Syme, later Joan Cochrane, for many years along with Debbie Hess.
“So many moms would come up and they’d have a place to visit and fellowship,” Hollett pointed out.
“We’ve been blessed with this property,” he summed up. “It’s been pretty nice to be able to be here.”
But everything hinges on volunteer efforts to put plans into action.
“Like any organization, it takes a lot of people working together to make it happen,” said Hollett.
The legacy has been created for the lead-up to the next 125 years.