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!

Features

Photo: Darrell Noakes

Drag queens help church raise money and awareness

by Darrell Noakes

The event, called “Take Me to Church,” after a popular song, was a fundraiser for LGBTQ youth in Saskatchewan.

Promotional Image

Observations

Jocelyn Bell%

Observations: Our magazine's plastic problem

by Jocelyn Bell

"While I can easily defend the use of a polybag on financial grounds, it would be unconscionable to deliver a cover story about plastics . . . in plastic."

Promotional Image

Video

ObserverDocs: Playing by Heart

by Observer Staff

United Church music director Kara Shaw was born prematurely, became almost totally blind and was later diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder. Today, the 28-year-old showcases her unique musical ability, performing piano on local and national stages.

Promotional Image

Features

April 2018

What that recycling logo actually means

by Susan Nerberg

Contrary to popular belief, its presence doesn’t guarantee the product is reusable or recyclable.

Columns

April 2018

Why Canada needs a free-range parenting law

by Pieta Woolley

Justice

January 2018

Jehovah's Witnesses cover-up

by Kristy Woudstra

Canadian survivors of childhood sexual abuse are coming forward to reveal how their church failed them — and protected their predators

Profiles

October 2017

Fall from grace

by Justin Dallaire

Don Hume was a United Church minister nearing retirement. Then he tried crack cocaine.

Features

April 2018

10 easy ways to kick our nasty plastic habit

by Susan Nerberg

It's not as hard as you think.

Features

April 2018

What that recycling logo actually means

by Susan Nerberg

Contrary to popular belief, its presence doesn’t guarantee the product is reusable or recyclable.

Promotional Image