It is sometimes easy to forget that many of the Christian congregations in Victoria have roots that go back to the earliest days of the European settlement of southern Vancouver Island.
One such congregation is Shady Creek United Church, which last Sunday celebrated 150 years on the Saanich Peninsula.
About 600 people gathered from far and wide at the Saanich Fairgrounds in a large circus tent to sing, laugh, share stories, pray and eat together. We learned that the congregation was formed in 1862 by families who had arrived about four years earlier at the invitation of Gov. James Douglas. They had come aboard a steamer from San Francisco and included a number of black settlers who had decided to settle on the Saanich Peninsula.
They constructed a building near the Old East Saanich Road, close to where Sandhill Creek turns eastward and flows under what is now East Saanich Road.
The name Shady Creek United Church harks back to those early days when the trees stood thick and shady along the creek.
In the earliest days, the church was called South Saanich Methodist Church. When the first building was abandoned, the congregation built a new building completed in 1895 on East Saanich Road. The building was built on a small parcel of land donated by Robert John, who also donated one acre of land to be used for a public, non-denominational cemetery right next to the church. The congregation has gathered at this location ever since.
When Canadian Methodist, Presbyterian and Congregationalist churches joined together in 1925 into the United Church of Canada, the little church on East Saanich Road was renamed South Saanich United Church. In 1952, the name was again changed to Shady Creek United Church when geographically the church became part of the new municipality of Central Saanich, making the old name obsolete.
In 1955, another United Church was started in Brentwood Bay, and later the Shady Creek and Brentwood Bay churches joined to form one organization.
Through the years, the little church was the spiritual home for many families who gathered for prayer, potlucks and community.
Children were baptized, young people were married in the church, and many end-of-life services were celebrated there. Members of the congregation found ways to be of service to the wider community, following their Christian calling to be agents of compassion and healing in the world.
Today the congregation continues to meet for song, prayer and community every Sunday and throughout the week, under the leadership of Rev. Jonelle McLellan.
Henri Lock is the United Church chaplain at the University of Victoria. He is part of a religiously diverse team offering spiritual resources to the UVic community through the office of Multifaith Services.
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