It all started with the little Presbyterian church, called St. Andrew's, up on Mission Hill where the Courtenay 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 of Canada was formed in 1925 (by an Act of Parliament in Ottawa on June 10, 1925) it was an easy transition since all three churches were Presbyterian and they all agreed to become United Churches. 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 a Sunday.
In 1940 The Bay church was officially renamed Comox United Church 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 (e.g., Loyalty Dinner 1959) and continued for almost nine years.
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. (Comox District Free Press, 30 Sep 1959 page 1)
The property on Beach Drive, where we are located now, was purchased in 1966. On March 31, 1968 the first worship service was held in the new Comox United building, and in 1982 a new Christian Education wing was built above the Fellowship Hall. 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.
From 1990 to 2000 many upgrades of our facility were carried out (e.g. new roof, new flooring in the fellowship hall, painting outside and in, acquiring computers and data projectors, a dishwasher, a baby grand, new washrooms). In 2013 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. In 2021 the decision was made to invest in the technological equipment needed to begin live-streaming worship services and other gatherings.
In 1988 a dark shadow fell over 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 Rev. Bob Stiven was called in 1989, the congregation expanded and became vibrant again.
Over the years we have supported three interns (student ministers getting work experience under the supervision of the senior minister and Presbytery). After Rev. Bob Stiven retired, Rev. Maggie Enwright was hired in 1999. In 2008, in response to a growing congregation on Sunday mornings, our church began holding worship services in the late afternoon on Saturdays. These services continued until 2015. After 16 years of wonderful ministry to our congregation, Maggie left to pursue other calls and Rev. Keltie van Binsbergen was hired in 2015. In February 2020 Wayne Hughes began a part-time position as Minister of Pastoral Care and Congregational Life.
Since 2002 we have shared our building with the Comox Valley Unitarian Fellowship. 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.
Paul Colthorpe, a music teacher in School District 71 and Artistic Director of the North Island Choral Society, became our very gifted choir director in 1991. Our current Accompanist, Gloria Herauf, a talented music director who retired to Comox from Yorkton, Saskatchewan, has been with us since 2006. In addition to her music ministry in the church Gloria has directed six musical fundraisers including, "I Luv a Piano", "My Heart is Over There", “Best Little Broadway Show in the West” and “Through the Stage Door.”
In 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 have a Coordinator who acts as liaison with the Council.
In March 2009 Comox United Council made the decision to explore becoming an Affirming Ministry; this decision was endorsed by a congregational meeting held in May 2009. From May 2009 to May 2011 the church engaged in a thorough exploration and education process regarding Affirming ministries, which included visits to several congregations in the Vancouver area. On June 12, 2011 Comox United Church officially became an Affirming Ministry of the United Church of Canada.
From 2010 until 2018 Cathie Talbot held a half time position as a Congregational Designated Minister, working with children, youth, and families. Prior to that Cathie had been a volunteer superintendent of the church school since 1989 and had also published the early version of our church newsletter, The Window, until the Window Panes took over about 1990. The newsletter is now digital and created by our Church Administrator.
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.). It was the women’s groups who raised funds to purchase the pulpit and communion table for Comox United Church when we were still located on Church Street. Today our U.C.W. is open to all women and meets once a month or whenever the need arises. They have been involved in hosting events such as memorial services and women’s lunch gatherings, and continue to engage in fundraisers to support local outreach programs and the Mission and Service Fund.
Some churches have men's groups which were called AOTS (As One That Serves). At Comox United we call it the Men's Shed, a group which meets every Friday for coffee and all men are welcome.
Before the restructuring of the national United Church of Canada, Comox United regularly hosted Presbytery meetings (gatherings of representatives of United Churches from Chemainus to Port Hardy and Powell River). In 2005 our church hosted the General Meeting of BC Conference (a gathering of representatives from all the United Churches in BC) at the Sports Complex on Vanier Drive.
In April of 2020, we went online, maintaining a presence in the community despite the pandemic. We recorded worship services and posted them to our YouTube channel. Our newly hired Minister of Pastoral Care and Congregational Life, the Rev. Wayne Hughes, held us together during those three years of uncertainty, as our co-ordinating minster, the Rev. Keltie VanBinsbergen, suffered debilitating illness - culminating in her retirement.
After resuming in-person services at the end of September 2021, following a nineteen-month hiatus during the CoVid 19 pandemic, Comox United embarked on a major Visioning Process under the leadership of Rev. Debra Bowman, exploring the theme “Come to the Table: Living Lives of Faith into the Future.” In January of 2023, we welcomed the Rev. Karen Hollis as our new co-ordinating minister. This summer, Karen is preaching a series of sermons exploring and reflecting upon the core values which we identified during the Visioning process: Spirituality, Openness, Care for the Common Good, and Radical Love.