A church ‘At the centre of their world’

Cloverdale's Christ the Redeemer Anglican Church celebrates 130 years in Surrey.

Rev. Craig Vance reflects on the 130 year history of Cloverdale’s Christ Church

A service, community barbecue, games for kids and a Sunday school launch are just some of the ways Surrey’s oldest church will be marking its 130th anniversary this weekend.

A fraternal order shrouded in mystery and a genuine historic artifact will also be involved.

The original silver trowel used in 1884 to lay the cornerstone of Christ Church is being donated to the church – a gift from the Union Solomon Masonic Lodge, the New Westminster-based lodge of Freemasons who were there at the beginning to put the stone in place, and whose members are still a part of yearly anniversary services held inside the historic church.

Rev. Craig Vance, who took over the parish in 2005, was initially puzzled by the Masonic connection, until he was reassured by a senior cleric. Christ Church was dedicated with full Masonic rites, a reflection of the community that helped build it.

“So we just kind of embraced it as a historical oddity,” Vance told The Reporter during a recent tour.

“At the time [it was built], you’re English, you go to the Anglican Church and you’re a Mason.”

A time capsule was buried beneath the cornerstone, marked by a small plaque on the southeast corner of the church, says Vance, cradling a copy of Faith Among the Evergreens, a History of Surrey Centre.

“There’s some reference to some copies of newspapers and some personal goods that they put in it,” he says.

Christ Church, at 16613 Old Old McLellan Road, is a heritage landmark valued for its Arts-and-Craft-meets-Gothic-Revival style.

The church founders who started the parish in 1882 might be hard pressed to recognize the churchyard in 2012. Today, mature, second-growth Douglas Firs soar overhead, enveloping the pitched-roofed church, its slim bell tower and cozy pioneer cemetery in shade.

The gleaming white exterior paint – freshened just this summer after a location TV shoot – might seem odd, too.

According to the city’s heritage experts, a more accurate 1884 paint colour would be green or even red.

“Out here, in the middle of nowhere, it was what pigments were available. It was probably barn yard red.”

Inside, the original tongue-and-groove wood paneling remains unpainted, as are the pews, bathing the sanctuary in rich, warm tones of brown and gold as daylight pours in through stained-glass lancet windows.

Today, the congregation of Cloverdale’s Christ the Redeemer Anglican Church stands at around 80. On any given Sunday, the descendants of some of Surrey’s oldest families can be found sitting among the pews in the modern sanctuary – built in 1990 and located just across the street.

In the beginning, Christ Church was in a prime location in the growing community of Surrey Centre, although the area is a tad out-of-the way now.

It’s built on land donated by the area’s first pioneer, Abraham Huck, a U.S. Union Army veteran who arrived in the area in 1872, homesteading on the hillside. Huck evidently prospered; his house was the location of the first store and post office for Surrey Centre, chosen in 1881 as the site for the district municipal hall.

It’s admirably weathered the intervening decades. It’s maintained by the parish, and the Surrey Heritage Commission provides $5,000 a year on a matching basis.

“It’s a work of love, rather than a burden,” Vance says. “Many of my elders, if they could, they’d move back here in a heartbeat.”

The old church is still used for special services, funerals and weddings.

It’s also a frequent backdrop for film and TV productions, including Supernatural, Sci-fi TV show SG-1, which filmed an entire episode inside the church, and the film Alien vs. Predator, lending the historic church an undeniable aura of cool to a younger generation.

“It’s perfect for a lot of supernatural stuff,” Vance says, joking that “there have been exorcisms” at the church – all scripted by Hollywood.

On a more serious note, Vance says one of the things that attracts young people to the church is a sense of connection and belonging to something much older and larger than themselves.

“People are feeling that there’s a shallowness, and a rootlessness in our world. The Christian church is one of the few institutions that has a really really long memory.”

Traditions like the harvest dinner help connect today’s parishioners to their Surrey Centre pioneer predecessors, who similarly ushered in the autumn, filling every square inch of the old church with pumpkins and produce – the symbols of the harvest.

“Cloverdale was never a wealthy community,” Vance says, pointing to the farmers and tradespeople who populated the valley. “There’s a sense that this was very much at the centre of their world.”

On Sunday, the wider community is invited to the anniversary service.

The guest preacher is Fr. Matthew Johnson, an Anglican Church street priest who ministers on Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside.

That’s followed by a community barbecue featuring hamburgers, hot dogs, corn on the cob and more – available by donation.

There will also be games, the launch of the first Sunday school of the year, plus a chance to visit the heritage Christ Church and its historic cemetery.

The service begins at 10 a.m. in the 130-year-old church, followed by a procession across the street to the modern home of the parish, Christ the Redeemer Anglican Church, at 16633 Bell Road.

Note: Unfortunately, Christ Church is not wheelchair accessible.