A new minister has been entrusted to steward an historic Nanaimo church toward whatever comes next.
Rev. Greg Darjes is now leading the Sunday services at St. Andrew’s United Church at the corner of Fitzwilliam and Wesley streets.
It’s his second go-round at the 127-year-old church, which can be found on the City of Nanaimo’s heritage registry. Darjes was also interim minister in 2001-02 after originally moving from Saskatchewan to Vancouver Island to work at Nanaimo’s Edgewood Treatment Centre. He said St. Andrew’s has changed a little bit over the past two decades.
“The congregation, of course, has, not surprisingly, become older and smaller. The people aren’t shorter,” he quipped, “there’s just fewer of them.”
Darjes said the Old City Quarter remains vibrant, but said in the area close to the church, there are more people experiencing homelessness, people with drug addictions, and general awareness in the neighbourhood of those social issues.
“It’s more predominant than what it was before,” he said. “It wasn’t that it wasn’t here, but with the cost of housing on the Island … people who are marginal in terms of income, they can’t afford housing.”
Since his first stint at St. Andrew’s United Church, Darjes has been minister in other Island communities including Lake Cowichan and Ladysmith, and he still works part time at Cedars at Cobble Hill, a substance abuse treatment facility. He said there are commonalities between his two professions – it’s just that the healing, recovery and pursuit of balance and grounding are structured and paced a little differently.
“One of the descriptions I heard as far as treatment is biocycle social disease with a spiritual remedy,” Darjes said. “That’s what they really have in common, is the spiritual nature of humanity and how we can best live that and express that.”
A few days after his first service back in Nanaimo this month, Darjes talked about returning to St. Andrew’s, which he said has some real amenities, particularly as a music venue with the “great acoustics” of the sanctuary. He said the building itself is a resource, but he wants to work with the congregation to determine the church’s mission in an era of fewer church-goers. At his first service, Darjes told those in the pews that he’s good at talking and listening and plans to do a lot of both to try to get a sense of people’s capabilities and wishes. He wants to know what will give them a sense of fulfilment.
“How can we be a part of the community and offer something, and what’s that going to mean in the future as the congregation ages? What’s our new direction? I think that’s the kind of discussion that we’ll be having a lot,” Darjes said. “Where do we feel that we can really make a difference? What are we called to here?”
He said he’s open to whatever possibilities might emerge, and said those will come through dialogue.
“Rather than people having positions and saying we have to do this, first, [let’s] just be open to something that could show up that we’ve never even thought of, and that will be the thing we’re going to do,” he said.