The congregation now known as St. John's Presbyterian Church, White Rock, traces its origins to the year 1935, when Mr. Collins, a student-minister, began services in various homes in Cloverdale and surrounding area.
On January 14, 1939, the Board of Mission of The Presbyterian Church in Canada established the two-point charge of Cloverdale-White Rock, the congregation at White Rock being named the John Buchan Presbyterian Church, and the first service, attended by 13 people, being held on February 19. As this was the year of the royal visit to Canada, and monarchist sympathies were running at an all-time high, the congregation took its name from the then Governor General, Sir John Buchan, first Baron Tweedsmuir. When he died in 1940, the congregation was re-named the John Buchan Memorial Presbyterian Church.
The first services were held in an old cottage on Marine Drive, and soon thereafter in the Little Theatre, rented at $5 per month. In 1941, the office building belonging to Hunter's Mill was purchased from the Department of Indian Affairs for $350, with a yearly land lease of $25. This building still stands on Marine Drive, opposite La Baia Italian Restaurant, and is presently home to an Arcade, and next door to Washington Avenue Grill.
These excerpts from the minutes of various committees give an indication of how hard the people of this newly founded congregation worked to sustain their Presbyterian witness:
"We express our gratitude to all who helped with the Bazaar on November 25. These monies were received: Tea—$5.85. Home-Baking—$12.95. Aprons—$5.85. Home-sewing—$14.95. The total profit was $39.50." (1939)
The Scotch Supper of November 28, 1941, realised a profit of $14.00. This was earned, however, by serving the following amount of food: "3 pounds of haggis, 7 pounds of ham, 13 pounds of beef, 26 quarts of mashed carrots and turnips, 14 quarts of mashed potatoes, 2 gallons of gravy, 20 dozen rolls, and 24 apple pies."
Over the years, the name John Buchan Memorial Church dropped out of usage, and the congregation was referred to simply as "White Rock Presbyterian". The matter was brought to a head in 1959, as securing a title to the new property (the present site) made an official name imperative. The Kirk-Session presented the congregation with 3 choices: St. Stephen's, St. John's, or St. Ninian's. When the ballots were tabulated, it was discovered that the congregation had rebelled! An overwhelming majority had deleted these names in favour of one with more popular Scottish credentials: St. Andrew. The Kirk-Session chose to disregard the congregation's wishes and, on their recommendation, the Presbytery of Westminster approved their new name, St. John's, on May 6, 1959. The traditional symbol of St. John the Evangelist is an eagle, explaining why the newsletter is named The Way of the Eagle.
The New Building
The congregation experienced a sharp decline in attendance and givings in 1961–1962, and the Presbytery of Westminster came perilously close to disbanding the congregation. However, with renewed enthusiasm the decision was made to build a new St. John's on the present site, the sod being turned on December 5, 1963. On June 2, 1964, the work was completed, and the service of dedication conducted by The Presbytery of Westminster. This original building now comprises the North Hall, the Centre Hall, and the lounge and kitchen areas.
The Sanctuary 1968
There were many problems. The architect had dismissed the head of the construction company, and this resulted in liens, litigations, court appearances and regrettable polemics. A happy solution was finally reached and, in the words of Mr. Fred Lodge, the treasurer of the congregation at the time: "We should single out the work of Mrs. Ian (May) Duncan who, as treasurer of the Building Fund, handled large sums of money and issued literally hundreds of cheques during the course of construction. Few of us know or could understand the tremendous amount of work that fell to her lot, and the remarkable way in which she kept on top of it all."
In 1973, the house at 1479 George Street (now a parking lot), was purchased for $2,000, moved (at a cost of $1,300) and attached to the church on the south side for use as the Church Office, minister's office, and Sunday School rooms. This house was demolished in 1985 to make room for the present sanctuary.
In July 1979, the decision was made to sell the manse at 15476 Thrift Avenue for the sum of $58,000, the sum being invested and the interest used for the minister's housing allowance.
By the late seventies the building was too small to accommodate all worshippers or to house the weekly programmes. The annual congregational meeting on January 30, 1980, agreed that expansion was needed. On January 28, 1981, any proposal to either re-locate or purchase additional land for expansion was defeated. On April 21, 1981, the congregation decided to make additions to the building. On December 18, 1981, these additions were started, and they were all completed in the spring of 1982.
Few years later, in 1983, it was obvious that the new facilities were no longer adequate. On November 9, 1984, the congregation voted to construct a new sanctuary (the present sanctuary). The first service in the present sanctuary was conducted on December 22, 1985, and was dedicated on January 26, 1986, by The Presbytery of Westminster.
The Rev. David Robertson, then minister of St. John's, retired in 1986 due to ill health. On April 1, 1988, the Rev. John Bodkin, Senior Minister of Central Church, Cambridge, Ontario, was inducted minister of St. John's. Again, a period of rapid growth ensued. From June 1988 to March 1989, 82 communicant members and over 25 adherents were received.
At the congregational meeting of February, 1989, Dr. Roy Strang, Clerk of Session, reported that "With our numbers, an the likelihood of continuing growth, we must look forward and prepare to deal with them. The comfortably informal way of dealing with things, which has been adequate for a congregation of fewer than two hundred people, can no longer suffice. This is a challenge and an opportunity we can no longer avoid—individually and together we must act. The question is 'How?'"
In February 1989, the Kirk-Session appointed a 23 member Vision Committee, whose task it was to deal with these very questions. Again, a proposal to sell the present site and relocate was defeated, and the decision was then made to redesign the building. A second storey was added to the North Hall (the original sanctuary), providing 3 classrooms, a nursery, and a washroom. The office area was moved and enlarged, the original main entrance was turned into the library, the kitchen was enlarged, the lounge refurbished, and the walls of the North Hall were straightened to provide space for additional washrooms and a choir room.
As we enter the third Christian millennium in a our task stays the same: remaining faithful to your past, and building upon the heritage given to us, to proclaim the love and salvation of God in Christ, and to build up His kingdom on earth.
In November 2003 the Rev. Willem and Mrs. Bessie van der Westhuizen visited St. John's and the Rev. Willem van der Westhuizen preached for the Call as Senior Minister November 16, 2003. At a special congregational meeting November 20, 2003, the congregation decided to call the Rev. Willem van der Westhuizen as the new Senior Minister at St. John's. The van der Westhuizen family moved to Canada June 2004.
The year 2004 was a special year for the congregation at St. John's for another reason, too: In 2004 St. John's celebrated the 65th anniversary. Many events and concerts were planned by a special committee.
2004 was on many levels a cornerstone for St. John's, indeed.