Moving to Burnaby

by Cathedral Dean Jens Arendt, 2002

We arrived in Vancouver, Solvejg and I and our children, Thomas, Joanne, and Nick, in the beginning of September 1979. We had been told that the church was almost dying out; the truth was that we found a congregation very much alive, a congregation that also had many young families at our age.

There had been plans to unite the two congregations in Vancouver and Surrey by building a church near Dania Home, a retirement home built by the Danes in the 1940’ies in the suburb of Burnaby. These plans had been accepted at a General Meeting but were creating a schism between the two congregations that legally were one society but in practical terms were two separate parishes, the Surrey church having its own pastor, Olga Grening, sent by Dansk Kirke i Udlandet in 1978. When we arrived, the wounds were far from healed.

The new building plans began with Knud Peter Nielsen. He was a realtor, a great musical talent, he conducted the Danish Choir until my wife took over for a short while in 1980, and he was then a member of Broadway Tabernacle. In 1980 he was elected to the board of Dania Home Society where I as pastor was chairman of the Nominating Committee.

At a General Meeting of Dania Home Society in 1981(?), Knud Peter Nielsen suggested building new homes for the elderly, meeting rooms, and a party hall. The General Meeting rejected the idea; instead Torben Olsen suggested that a Danish church on the vacant property would serve Dania Home’s interests better. A later meeting decided to sell the property to the Danish Lutheran Church of Vancouver for what it over the years had cost Dania Home Society in taxes, $50,000.

A map of Greater Vancouver
1 = The First Church. 2 = The Second Church. G = Granly.

A General Meeting of the Danish Lutheran Church of Vancouver decided with a large majority to accept Dania Home Society’s offer and move the church to Burnaby. Several concerns motivated the move. The old framed building from 1937 had warped over time. The neighbourhood of the old church didn’t house many Danes anymore. The location near Dania Home was more central. A church next to Dania Home would be ideal for the many elderly Danes at the retirement home. Some probably also hoped that building a church in Burnaby would unite the two congregations; Granly in Surrey was at this time building a new meeting hall. There were also those who were opposed to moving the church but their numbers diminished. Almost all came to the new church.

Architect Søren Rasmussen, son of Hans and Oda Rasmussen, was asked to make the drawings for the new church. Hans and Oda were dear friends of the Danish Lutheran Church of Vancouver. It should be a copy of the old church but a little bigger. The plans also projected a new parsonage which was rather dominating next to the church. The drawings must have been ready by early summer 1982.

At this time there was a meeting in Calgary between the Danish pastors in Canada and the chairman and the general secretary of Dansk Kirke i Udlandet. I presented the building plans to the representatives for Dansk Kirke i Udlandet, who were a bit chocked that we had come that far. Afterwards I wrote to the board of Dansk Kirke i Udlandet that if they wanted to stop the building plans, then they should do so now. They replied that we should do as we thought best but that we should not expect financial support from Dansk Kirke i Udlandet.

Then Aksel Nielsen, who lived around 41st Avenue, sold his little bungalow. I had buried his Swedish wife. He donated $20,000 to the building fund. That was the first and the largest gift. He got a room at Dania Manor with a view of the building site. He didn’t live to see the finished church but was, as he himself put it, as Moses who was only allowed to see the promised land from Mount Nebo but not enter it himself.

It took time to get started. We waited for the necessary building permits. Then Henry Falkenholdt who was on the Board found that the building costs would be much higher that the proceeds from the sale of the old church plus $135,000 as had been assumed. We had bought the land, but we had not yet crossed the point of no return. At the Board meeting that were to irrevocably decide on the move to Burnaby we, the Board members, were asked to pledge donations to the building fund. The reason was that if the members of the Board didn’t believe in the move, then the congregation wouldn’t support it either. I recall that we pledged rather large sums.

We negotiated the sale of the old building with several potential buyers. One from a Sikh congregation asked when seeing the Statue of Christ by Thorvaldsen: Who in the world is that? In the end we sold for $300,000 to The Church of the Good Shepherd, a Chinese Anglican congregation. We were allowed to use the old church until just two weeks before the consecration of the new one, and we arranged that we could keep the altar, the pulpit, the pews, and all the other furniture.

Already in 1983 the Church had bought the parsonage on Burnfield Crescent. The plans of building a parsonage next to the church had been dropped because the architect’s suggestion was too expensive and too dominating. My wife and I were sent out to find a suitable home to buy. For a short while, it was considered to keep the parsonage on East 19th Avenue next to the old church. Fortunately for the pastor then and later, the church decided to sell the old parsonage and buy the new one on Burnfield Crescent. Considering the location, it was a good buy, even if the quality of the construction always was somewhat lacking. Near enough to the new church and yet at a distance. When we moved, our children suddenly had friends; friends had been missing when our children attended Charles Dickens Annex and Charles Dickens School in East Vancouver.

Inside the unfinished church
Framing above the Sanctuary.

In March of 1984 the first bulldozers began work on the site. The work progressed quickly and according to plan. A building manager was hired, and that turned out to save money. The need for volunteer work was very limited.

The congregation did a lot of fund raising. For a while the building fund stagnated, but a donation of $15,000 gave new hope. A fourth Ladies Auxiliary was formed. A bazaar held at Scandwich on Howe Street raised more money than any similar event before that. Later another bazaar was held at the old Post Office on Main Street. As treasurer, Betty Christensen had the pleasure of keeping track of the money coming in and paying the bills.

The last service in the old church was held on September 30th, 1984. Afterwards we gathered downstairs. It was sad. Some of those present had been part of building the old church in 1937. Almost all had been welcomed by the church on East 19th Avenue when they first arrived in Vancouver as newcomers. It was also a sad day for me. My father was pastor in the old church from 1945 to 1950; both I and our youngest daughter, Maja, were baptised in the old church.

On October 14th, 1984, we all gathered in front of the church. Knud Peter Nielsen had put together a group of brass players who played outside the front door. The president of our church, Poul B. Christensen, welcomed everybody. Frida Møllgaard spoke at Jellingestenen, Frede Herlev at the dolmen. Oluf Børsholt, who had been active in our church since it was first built, unveiled the marble plaque cornerstone which we had moved from the old building. Beech trees were planted by the youth assisted by Henry Falkenholt and Fred Pagh. Børge Nielsen, who was the president of the church when the move was decided, cut the red-white ribbon and thus opened the church.

The consecration service was led by the president of Dansk Kirke i Udlandet, Bishop Johannes W. Jacobsen. DKU’s chairman, Pastor Christian Dickmeiss, and secretary general, Egon Christiansen, were also present, as were the Danish ambassador to Canada, H.E. Vagn Korsbæk, Pastor Emeritus Immanuel Rasmussen, Pastor Overgaard Thomsen, Toronto, Pastor Lars Basbøll, Calgary, Pastor Holger Madsen, Edmonton, Pastor Husted Christensen, Standard (Alberta), Pastor Richard Sørensen of St. John in Seattle, Pastor Olga Grening from Granly, and our local member of parliament, Mr Svend Robinson. Former President Børge Nielsen lit the altar candles; the altar Bible was presented by President Poul B. Christensen; other members of the congregation presented the pitcher used at Baptism and the chalice and plate used at Communion.

After the service, we had a pastors’ convention. I recall that a talk about the Book of Psalms was interrupted by the noise from the workers putting on the finishing touches.

While the representatives of Dansk Kirke i Udlandet were in town, an important decision was reached. We borrowed $60,000 interest free of the money raised by the land sale in Surrey in 1975, and Granly Danish Lutheran Church became a separate society. Maybe some had thought that building a new church would unite the two congregations, now it went the other way; but that was then the beginning of a good and fruitful cooperation between the two churches.