I can’t remember the exact day, but I think it would be about today’s date that marks 30 years since our family arrived to take up residence here in Prince George, British Columbia. Dividing our drive from Saskatoon, Saskatchewan into two days with our very young family of four children (stopping in McBride for the night) we arrived in about mid-afternoon on a very snowy day. As I recall, our furniture had arrived a day earlier and the truck, loaded and driven by a couple of young men from the church, Kevin Brown and Blair Maxie , was waiting for us at the house that would become our new abode. It was pretty much in the middle of the west side of the City, just off 15th and Ospika, in a lovely residential neighbourhood. The church we had come to lead welcomed us warmly with a bundle of volunteers to help with the move and a full cupboard of groceries. Little did we know at that time that our sojourn here (in that house for six months) would stretch into thirty years!
It’s no secret that we arrived with some sense of tentativeness. Though we had felt rather blessed in the early part of our pastoral ministry in Saskatchewan — both in Regina and North Battleford — our time of service in Saskatoon seemed to have ended prematurely and with some sense of pastoral failure. In many ways, as we arrived in Prince George, we felt like the wind had been knocked out of our sails. By leaving Saskatoon, we were driving away from what seemed to be the centre of denominational life and experience. By coming to Prince George, we felt like we were very much on an unknown and rather remote pastoral ministry adventure. We needed a new start, a place to heal, a place to regain faith and confidence about life and ministry. Though Prince George was off the beaten track, it offered hope for recovery and the opportunity for significant spiritual influence in the lives of people.
It didn’t take long for us to sense that we were thrust into a different culture both in the community and the church. Compared to Saskatchewan, life in Prince George seemed a little more casual, a little more relaxed. At that time, Prince George, having come through a time of rapid industrial growth not long before, was still a bit of a frontier town. Marriage, for example, didn’t seem to have the same status as it did in Saskatchewan, there being more instances of common-law relationships. Christian life-style convictions appeared to be a little less rigid too; worship services were less formal than we had known in Saskatchewan. Many people, we sensed, had come to Prince George because they were trying to get away from more restrictive environments. And the town of about 65,000 had a youthful feel to it; the average age when we arrived in 1984 was 34 years old. For our age at that time, it seemed like an appropriate place to be. Virtually 1/4 of the population was in school or under 18. It didn’t take long for us to realize that Prince George offered a golden opportunity for evangelism and church ministry as well as the growth of our family.
Since the church in Prince George had gone through some of its own challenges just before we arrived, there were some major adjustments on all sides. It actually took a couple of years for us to feel like we were gaining some traction. Part of that was due to the large annual turn-over in the church and community. Because of its location and youthfulness, and the nature of industry in Prince George, it wasn’t unusual for large numbers of the population to move on each year. During our first year at the church some 25 family units (out of a church of about 160) moved on. But it wasn’t long before they were replaced by people who moved in as well. But this, we quickly learned, became part of the pattern of life and ministry in Prince George. Some, of course, like us now, stayed to establish their businesses and families; but many others came and went. As a result, over the 20 year period that we led the church, we estimated that some 2000 people had been a significant part of the church.
As we look back over 30 years of life in Prince George, we feel so blessed to have been part of this amazing community. This is the place where we really matured in our personal lives, in our professional lives, our ministry lives, and our family life. After the children were well-established in school (which included a couple of years of home-schooling) Carolyn started her professional teaching career which has been such a blessing in more ways than one. The children did well in the public school system and went on to establish successful careers and families of their own. Yes, we have had our share of crises during these last thirty years of life in Prince George, but overall, those years hold many memories of wonderful blessing. It’s been great to be part of a community that has grown a little in size, added its own university, and definitely become a strong commercial, industrial, and medical centre in northern BC.
Especially important for us, I’m sure, is the fact that we’ve had the privilege of having a significant part in the development of the church of Jesus Christ in this community. Our church never did become more than a modest size, but it’s influence has become a large part of the fabric of the spiritual life of this city. After about 10 years, by the vision and foresight of others in the church, it spawned another one that has also become strong and influential in the city. Almost 10 years have passed since I’ve been actively involved professionally in leading a church in Prince George. But Prince George and the larger church here continues to be a good base for me from which to engage in church-related ministry in other places. It is here that God has brought about the formation of Second Wind Ministries through which I offer counselling to others in ministry, and to churches in western Canada who are going through transition.
Prince George has been a wonderful place to live, to raise our family, and to do our work for these last 30 years. We love the scenery and recreational opportunity of this place. It is a significant metropolis in the heart of the province that provides for all the amenities that we need at mostly modest prices. We never know how much longer we’ll stay in Prince George, but it does seem that each year draws us into continuing opportunity for personal growth and fruitfulness. This thirty-year milestone is a great opportunity to stop and celebrate God’s grace and goodness in our lives here in Prince George.