Transgendered People in the Church

First United’s Affirm Committee is hosting a potluck dinner Monday, November 19 at 5:30pm followed by the screening of the documentary film “Belonging in the Body: Transgender Journeys of Faith.” Following the 60-minute film, we are excited to have Beth Carlson-Malena, who’s the director of community for Generous Space Ministries, who created the video, with […]

Most recent refugee sponsored, Anas Qartoumeh to be Grand Marshall of Kelowna’s Pride Parade

The Central Okanagan Refugee Committee (CORC), a consortium of United Churches (Winfield United, Rutland United and First United Kelowna) have worked together for almost two decades sponsoring refugees through the United Church of Canada as a Sponsorship Agreement Holder (SAH) with Canadian Immigration (CIC). The first refugee family from Syria, the Alshahouds, a family of 7, arrived on May 20th 2016. CORC has worked closely with The Islamic Centre and others in the community to fundraise the money needed to sponsor refugees. Since 2016 two more families from Syria have been sponsored. In late 2017 the group of churches again responded to a request through Rainbow Refugees, a Vancouver-based organization, to sponsor a gay man from Syria. Anas Qartoumeh arrived in Kelowna on Nov. 23, 2017 and was greeted by his sponsors waving rainbow flags and welcoming him to Canada.

Anas has been settling into a new life in Kelowna, and was honoured to be invited to be this year’s Grand Marshall in the Gay Pride Parade on August 18, 2018. Hear Anas’ interview with CBC radio about his life in Syria and how his sponsorship to Canada has changed his life.


The Great Bibleland Dig

Ever wonder who wrote the Bible? When it was written down? Did you know the Bible was the first book ever printed mechanically? That it has been translated into more than 2,000 languages? What makes it so special? These are some of the questions we explored at our week-long Vacation Adventure held August 20-24. Twenty five kids and leaders gathered each morning for singing, games and crafts. We met the entertaining Dr. Doug Treasures, and found out all about what an archaeologist (that’s someone who digs in places where people lived long ago) does. Then we got to try our hand at being an archaeologist too by digging in our survey “grid” to find objects that helped us explore the Bible, and the times it was written in. It was a great week of learning and making new friends!

Heritage Designation

Heritage Building

The historic place is the First United Church and the adjacent church hall and Sunday school, begun in stages between 1909 and 1929 in the Gothic Revival and Tudor Revival styles, and located at 721 Bernard Avenue, at the corner of Richter Street, in Kelowna’s historic North Central neighbourhood.

Heritage Value:

The First United Church has architectural value for its distinctive architectural quality, its having been a product of work by important local architect and builders, and its landmark status. It has historical value for its long-standing place in the community, including its association with specific people and events that were significant in the history of the City; and it has provincial value for its role in Church Union.

The prominent church, built in 1909 during the first wave of development in the young City of Kelowna, is a highly significant heritage resource because of its stalwart Gothic Revival design and its strong architectural presence. The large brick church is also a neighbourhood landmark that marks the dividing point between the commercial and residential sections of Bernard Avenue, and is the main landmark in the area.

This dominant position has been held since the first church was built at this location in 1898. A.B. Knox, pioneer rancher and owner of land to the east of the Kelowna townsite, had donated a large lot at the corner of Bernard Avenue and Richter Street to the Presbyterians two years earlier. The first, wooden, Knox Presbyterian Church was built there by prominent builder M.J. Curts; the name was apt, as Knox had a distant family relationship with John Knox, the Scottish religious reformer for whom the church was named. The church was part of a ‘student field,’ which included the Benvoulin Church, until 1905, when Kelowna’s Presbyterian congregation became self-sufficient and separate.

The present building, the second Knox Presbyterian Church, was designed by architect Wesley A. Peters, who designed two other churches in Kelowna at this time; and was constructed in local brick by prominent builder Harry W. Raymer in 1909-10. It has value as a very good example of the late Gothic Revival Style, a manner in which the Gothic historicism is set within a restrained, almost proto-modernist architectural treatment.

Sunday school rooms were built in 1919 and 1920 (the later built by M.J. Curts). The Tudor Revival school and hall, built in 1928-29 and enlarged in 1947, expanded the Sunday school and provided a hall for many other community activities. The hall remains a popular venue for general secular community activities, as well as for the Church.

The building also has value for its role in the formation of the United Church of Canada. The Reverend Alexander Dunn, who served as minister from 1912, returned from a Presbyterian General Assembly in Winnipeg in 1916 so fired with the idea of Church Union that he immediately resigned to make union possible in Kelowna. As a consequence the Union Church of Presbyterians and Methodists came into being, one of the first union churches in British Columbia. In 1926 the United Church of Canada was formed, including Congregationalists as well, and the building became the First United Church.

The First United Church seized the opportunities of new technology. When the radio station 10-AY (predecessor of CKOV) started broadcasting in 1928, among its first regular programs were morning and evening services from the Church every second Sunday, as well as many concerts put on by the Church to help raise money for equipment upkeep for the station.

Character Defining Elements:

  • Prominent location at the intersection of Bernard Avenue and Richter Street
  • Building mass dominates the open view at the intersection
  • Asymmetrical plan, with a corner entry through the base of the tower
  • Gothic Revival features, including pointed-arched (and segmental-headed) doors, pointed-arched stained-glass windows, buttresses, gables, and crenellated tower.
  • Buttresses are stepped, with sloped coping at each step
  • Light brown brick church walls with cream concrete trim
  • Large stained-glass windows that dominate the two main church facades
  • Stairs with parapets leading up to the principal doors
  • Tudor Revival Church Hall and Sunday School, which are sympathetic in massing with the Church, and which has features of that style, such as the decorative half timbering and vertically-oriented windows
  • Landscaping with trees and shrubs at small open corner
  • Fieldstone retaining wall along narrow raised landscaped beds on Richter Street

Syrian Refugees

The Central Okanagan Refugee Committee (CORC) was formed in the late 90s as a consortium of United Churches (Winfield United, Rutland United and First United Kelowna) working together to sponsor Kosovo refugees through the United Church of Canada as a Sponsorship Agreement Holder (SAH) with Canadian Immigration (CIC). We sponsored four families at that time. Winfield had previous experience with Salvadoran refugees and First United with Vietnamese boat people and a “woman at risk” from Somalia with her young baby. In the early 2000s CORC also sponsored a single mom and her 4 children from Colombia after the husband had been killed by Colombian rebels. Recently St Paul’s United has also joined the groupBut as the Syrian refugee situation unfolded CORC became an umbrella or coordinating group for other SAH holders in the Okanagan because of our 15+ years experience and because our refugee family the Alshahouds (a family of 7) who arrived on May 20th was the first Syrian refugee family in Kelowna. (A Syrian family had arrived in Summerland, sponsored by Summerland United Church in late March so this was the second family arriving in the valley.) We wanted to be sure we knew what each group was doing so we didn’t duplicate things, could support each other and assist one another as each family arrived.  The SAH groups involved are:

CORC: Winfield, Rutland, St Paul`s, and First United Church (currently assisting the Alshahoud family and awaiting the El Sweitleh family of 6)
The Nelson Diocese of the Catholic Church (St Charles Garnier sponsoring a family from Colombia and awaiting a family from Myanmar; St Pius sponsoring an Iraqi family: the diocese is awaiting 12 families coming to various communities the Okanagan valley)
LARC: The Lutheran Anglican Refugee Committee (currently applying)
Winfield and Mission Creek Alliance Church (awaiting the Alasmar family from Homs Syria, and a second group is about to sponsor the married son and daughter-in-law and 2 children related to the Alshahoud family)
The Islamic Centre
Plus other members of the community who have asked to join the committee and work with us
The community has been very helpful responding to numerous fundraisers that have been held to raise the money needed to sponsor a family or families. The Society of Hope offered help for housing the Alasmar family coming under sponsorship of the Alliance SAH.

Dr Shane Ganier (dentist) and dental technician Shari  Holland took the Alshahoud family checked their teeth and did free xrays, and asked the Kelowna Dental Association if the dentists would each take on one of the family members to bring their teeth up to date filling cavities etc. The dad had his teeth all extracted and a denturist has now offered to make dentures free of charge. This was a big help to our group and family.

A group of young moms know as “Momas to Momas” have agreed to help us organize a daycare so the next 3 families who are coming with pre-schoolers can have daycare so the mothers can attend ESL lessons in the mornings. Previously the government used to supply the daycare but do not do so now. We will hire an earlier childhood education specialist to run the program and the Momas group will supply volunteers to help (and also bring their children to play and interact with the Syrian children.) They are also gathering children’s clothing.

A quilting group in Rutland and one in Winfield each presented beautiful handmade quilts to the Alshahoud family as our weather turned cold.

Some people contacted us saying that they had ESL experience and were willing to help. Because there was no ESL for the children during the summer these folks formed an invaluable group to provide lessons for the family every morning at the church, so they did not lose out and go backwards during the summer. Some of these folks now assist within the classroom as volunteers with the family and one assists with homework as needed.  Many hours have been put in by many volunteers.

This is truly a community effort and will grow as more families arrive.

Donations for the refugee families can be made at First United church and a charitable donation receipt will be given. Currently Mohammed and Sara are trying to pay back the government for the $10,000 bill incurred for airfare to being their family to Kelowna.

White Gift Sunday

Traditionally on this Sunday gifts are brought wrapped in white paper so that each gift is valued equally and it is the spirit of giving that is honored. The idea was inspired by a Chinese legend of the great King Kubla Khan who, when his subjects wanted to honor him, requested that all the people give a gift wrapped in plain white paper so that every gift would look the same. Each person gave the king what they were able, and the king welcomed them all. The White Gift shares in the spirit of Christ at Christmas. So fittingly, White Gift Sunday celebrates the stewardship of God’s love and giving at the time of year when we remember the coming of the “King of Kings.”

This year your gifts will benefit those who attend the Grandparents Raising Grandchildren group that meets at our church. GRG is a program of the Parent Support Services Society of BC. This group is open to grandparents and other relatives raising a family member’s child. It provides a weekly opportunity to connect with others to talk about new ways to nurture their grandchildren and discuss changes in social life, financial concerns, health issues, etc. Did you know that in British Columbia, according to the last census, grandparents were raising more than 10,000 grandchildren? That’s more than the number of children in BC’s foster care system. More than half are retired and living on fixed incomes and some get no financial support from the government because they do not have legal custody of their grandchildren. They face issues of isolation, financial and emotional stress. Often there is little time and no money for extras that many of us take for granted—coffee with a friend, treating a grandchild to the movies, getting our hair done or other self-care.

To support this White Gift Project, choose a gift tag (includes a suggestion on the back) from our two table-top trees during coffee hour. Bring your donations with you to church on December 13.