UC Observer logo
UCObserver on SoundCloud UCObserver on YouTube UCObserver on Facebook UCObserver on Twitter UCObserver's RSS Feeds

Photo Essay: The Hillhurst effect

Inside a United Church success story

By Lyle Aspinall


In his recent book Fishing Tips: How Curiosity Transformed a Community of Faith, Rev. John Pentland recalls arriving at Hillhurst United to take up pastoral ministry duties in 2004. The church, located in the northwest part of Calgary’s inner city, was in serious decline, like hundreds of others elsewhere. The congregation, which once boasted more than 300 children in Sunday school alone, was down to a core of fewer than 100 worshippers, most of them elderly. It was barely scraping by financially. The surrounding community, which had once embraced Hillhurst as a focal point, seemed to have almost forgotten it existed. Nostalgia, writes Pentland, mingled with despair inside the walls of the handsome brick building on Kensington Close. “It was clear they didn’t know what to do next, save seeking new leadership.”

Fast-forward to 2015. On a typical Sunday at Hillhurst, upwards of 400 people fill the pews in two services. A lot of them are genuinely young, not just “young” by current United Church standards. About 100 kids file out to Sunday school each week. Monthly offerings have increased almost tenfold. The annual church budget has soared from $120,000 in 2004 to $857,000 today. Offering a rich smorgasbord of outreach programs, Hillhurst is once again a hub in the life of the Kensington community, and proud of it.

Hillhurst has become a poster child for congregational renewal in The United Church of Canada. The obvious question for countless other congregations is, how did they do it? The answer is far too complicated to get into here; Pentland takes care of that in his book. But suffice to say, it all began with a core of United Church people and leaders who felt called to do something great and who believed in their own capacity to make it happen. We offer the images on the following pages not to glorify one congregation but to inspire many.

—David Wilson




Readers’ advisory: The discussion below is moderated by The UC Observer and facilitated by Intense Debate (ID), an online commentary system. The Observer reserves the right to edit or reject any comment it deems to be inappropriate. Approved comments may be further edited for length, clarity and accuracy, and published in the print edition of the magazine. Please note: readers do not need to sign up with ID to post their comments on ucobserver.org. We require only your user name and e-mail address. Your comments will be posted from Monday to Friday between 9:30 a.m. and 5:30 p.m. Join the discussion today!

Announcement

New Observer editor and CEO, Jocelyn Bell. Photo by Lindsay Palmer

New editor named

by Observer Staff

Promotional Image

Editorials

Jocelyn Bell%

Observations

by Jocelyn Bell

We’ll miss you, David Wilson

Promotional Image

Video

ObserverDocs: My Year of Living Spiritually

by Observer Staff

Anne Bokma left the Dutch Reformed Church as a young adult and eventually became a member of the United Church and then the Unitarian Universalists. Having long explored the "spiritual but not religious" demographic as a writer, she decided to immerse herself in practices — like hiring a soul coach, secular choir-singing and forest bathing — for 12 months to find both enlightenment and entertainment.

Promotional Image

Society

November 2017

Trump country

by David Macfarlane

A northern Alabama county voted almost unanimously for Donald Trump in 2016. One year later, the writer, together with photographer Nigel Dickson, travels there to try to understand why.

Faith

November 2017

Involuntary pilgrim

by David Giuliano

The return of a tumour sets David Giuliano on a path he calls his ‘Camino de Cancer’

Faith

October 2017

A tale of two cancers

by Catherine Gordon

One year after the writer discovered she had breast cancer, her sister in California received the same diagnosis. They both recovered, but their experiences were worlds apart.

Society

November 2017

Trump country

by David Macfarlane

A northern Alabama county voted almost unanimously for Donald Trump in 2016. One year later, the writer, together with photographer Nigel Dickson, travels there to try to understand why.

Faith

November 2017

Involuntary pilgrim

by David Giuliano

The return of a tumour sets David Giuliano on a path he calls his ‘Camino de Cancer’

Faith

November 2017

Grey matter

by Trisha Elliott

Is consciousness just a function of the brain — or something more?

Promotional Image