It all started with the little Presbyterian church, called St. Andrew's, up on Mission Hill where the cemetery is located. The first settlers arrived here in 1862 and by 1876 the Anglicans and Presbyterians had decided they needed a church building, after making do with using their homes and schools for services.
At that time Sandwick was the heart of the farming community, and most people were either Anglican, Presbyterian or Roman Catholic. St. Andrew's Presbyterian Church was completed in 1877. Eventually, the village of Comox had grown enough that the Presbyterians decided to build their own church and it was called The Bay church, completed in 1901. Soon the town of Courtenay had developed and St. George's Presbyterian church was built in 1913.
When the United Church was formed in 1925, it was an easy transition, since all three churches were Presbyterian and they all agreed to become United. (had to be passed by Parliament in Ottawa, June 10, 1925). St. Andrew's, The Bay and St. George's became a three-point pastoral charge, which meant that the minister had to do a lot of traveling to cover all the services on Sunday.
In 1940 The Bay church was officially renamed Comox United and continued to expand as the population grew. St. Andrew's, however, remained a small congregation and was eventually amalgamated with Comox in 1961. In 1962 Comox United and St. George's became two separate pastoral charges and by 1964 each had their own minister. Comox continued to expand until the building on Church Street was no longer big enough. Fundraising began in 1959 and continued for almost nine years (Loyalty Dinner 1959).
More Room Needed New United Church planned for Comox
COMOX—Steadily increasing attendance at the United Church here has made the capacity of the present church inadequate and a new and larger church is to be built. Last week a congregational meeting was called by the board of stewards at which it was decided by an almost unanimous vote to conduct a drive for funds for a larger building. The Rev. Frank Johnson spoke of the great need for accommodation for the congregation. On family Sundays and special occasions the church will not contain the numbers and the overflow has to find seats in the hall. Mrs. B.G. Radford gave a resume of the information received from Mr. Warren, provincial secretary of the Church Extension Board. A number of others present expressed their views on the question and it was finally decided to join the Sector Plan for fund raising towards a new church. Chairman of the board of stewards, C. T. Rendle, D. Chamberlin, E. C. Stewart, E. C. Smith, A. Ludwick and Mr. Johnson attended the meeting at Parksville Wednesday evening to discuss with representatives the implementation of the Sector Plan this winter. (Comox District Free Press, 30 Sep 1959 page 1)
The property on Beach Drive, where we are now, was purchased in 1966. Manses were bought and sold until the decision was made to give the minister a housing allowance instead of providing a manse. From 1970 to 1976, we shared our facilities with the Roman Catholic congregation of St. John the Baptist while they were in the process of re-organizing and erecting a new building.
In 1988 a dark shadow fell on our congregation when most of the members decided to break away because of the decision of the national church to recognize gay and lesbian clergy. About 20 loyal members were left to keep going.
It was a struggle but after Bob Stiven was called in 1989, the congregation expanded and became vibrant again. We are confident enough now to call our ourselves an Affirming Congregation, welcoming all people regardless of sexual orientation.
A lot of upgrading of our facility has been carried out, e.g. new roof, new flooring in the fellowship hall, painting outside and in, acquiring computers, a dishwasher, a baby grand, building new washrooms. Most recently, the chancel area of the sanctuary was renovated to provide a more open area at the front of the church, which allows for expanded use beyond worship services.
We have had three interns at various stages (student ministers getting work experience under the supervision of the senior minister and Presbytery). After Bob Stiven retired, Maggie Enwright was hired in 1999. After 16 years of wonderful ministry to our congregation, Maggie left to pursue other calls.
Since 2002, the Unitarian Church has been using our sanctuary for their services and they have the use of the sanctuary and some of the rooms. There are many groups using our facilities as well.
In 2005, we hired a staff associate, Christine Welch, who worked half time for four years before leaving to take a position at Glacier View Lodge. Christine instituted the Rainbows program for children who were experiencing difficult times due to divorce or death in the family. She also organized cluster groups under pastoral care for seniors unable to attend church services. Both these programs are ongoing.
In September 2010, we hired Cathie Talbot for a half time position as a Congregational Designated Minister. Cathie has been superintendent of church school for many years and also published our church newsletter, The Window until the Window Panes took over about 1990. The Window is published four times a year.
Our choir director, Paul Colthorpe, a music teacher in School District 71, who also leads the North Island Chorale Society, has been with us for many years. Our current Pianist, Gloria Herauf, is a talented music director who retired to Comox from Yorkton, Saskatchewan. We are fortunate to have other pianists who are able to fill in on Saturday or Sunday: Noreen Robertson and Carol Jennermann.
Gloria has directed six musical fundraisers including "I Luv a Piano", "My Heart is Over There", “Best Little Broadway Show in the West” and, in 2015, “Through the Stage Door”.
In about 2009, we switched from having an Official Board to a Church Council, as it was felt this would be a more efficient method of operation. Committees are divided into groups according to their main function (see chart in the Annual Report or on the website). Groups of committees who fit into the same classification have a Coordinator who acts as liaison with the Council, which means that fewer people need to attend Council meetings.
From the beginning, women have been the backbone of the church. In the early days, there were two separate groups. The Women's Missionary Society (WMS) focused on supporting overseas mission work. The Women's Auxiliary, or Ladies' Aid, focused on local projects and raised money through bake sales and bazaars. The two groups merged in 1962 to be called the United Church Women (U.C.W.) Our U.C.W. is open to all women and meets once a month or whenever the need arises. They are always busy with various projects.
Some churches had men's groups which were called AOTS (As One That Serves). Here we just call it the Men's Shed, which meets every Friday for coffee and all men are welcome.
Moorecroft Camp was purchased by Comox-Nanaimo Presbytery in 1955. Our congregation's children, youth and adults have had the privilege and joy of attending that beautiful unspoiled property until it was sold by BC Conference in 2010. In April 2011, we began holding our congregational retreat at Camp Pringle on Shawnigan Lake.
In 2007, we created our own Website, www.comoxunitedchurch.com.
Comox United hosts Presbytery meetings on a regular basis and in 2005 hosted a meeting of BC Conference at the Sports Complex on Vanier Drive.