By Sports Editor Cole Schisler
Built in 1893, St. Andrew’s United Church is Nanaimo’s oldest house of worship. St. Andrew’s provides united worship service, which is a combination of three Protestant denominations: Congregational Methodist, and Presbyterian. Services are held on Sundays from 10:30 – 11:30 am, led by Minister Debbie Marshall.
“We are a very inclusive church,” Marshall said. “The United church has always been seen as progressive, sort of out there if you like. We are trying to be as inclusive as we can to people of different orientations, different cultures, and different socioeconomic situations.”
The church building itself is inviting and inclusive. Various groups of faith have used the church to hold services, and it has been used to host concerts due to the excellent acoustics.
Every Wednesday at 10 am St. Andrew’s opens its doors to the community, providing coffee, tea, juice sandwiches, and live music performances by local artists.
“We can get up to 50 people in our hall here on Wednesdays,” Marshall said.
Marshall, an award-winning author, has a strong focus on the arts.
“We do a three-part series for women, for which we’ve invited local artists. This year we’ll have a weaver, a filmmaker, and a musician to be speaking to women about creativity and spirituality.”
These sessions will be held on Tuesdays throughout October, November, and January.
In her twenties, Marshall attended divinity school, had finished her Masters, and was all set to go into ministry, but she felt she was not ready to preach to people with more life experience than herself, so she set off to explore her faith.
“I did doctoral work in the United States at Garret Seminary and North Western,” Marshall said. “I came back to Canada and worked in the church. I did social justice work through a group called Ten Days for World Development, I was a resource coordinator for them, so I did a lot of writing. I wrote for the National Church, and I edited adult and children’s educational materials.”
Two years ago, Marshall came to Gabriola to house-sit for a friend. She was enveloped in work as a full-time author, and was in the midst of finishing a book when she went to church on Gabriola and felt a strong calling.
“God was saying to me, ‘Debbie, it’s time to come back, you need to be doing this other work.’ So I decided to come back.” She felt a strong pull to come to the Island, where a job at St. Andrew’s opened up. She was accepted and ordained in July. “I’m still writing,” Marshall said. “This job is part-time so I also still write. I don’t think I’ll ever give up writing, it’s part of who I am.”
Marshall finished her most recent book, Firing Lines: Three Canadian Women Write the First World War, and it comes out February 2017 with Dundurn and Press.
Apart from her writing, Marshall is hard at work cultivating connections in the community. She hopes to open up the church to more groups and hold more events in the future, and would like to attract more young people to the church.
“It’s my goal to establish a group for young adults sometime this year,” Marshall said.
St. Andrew’s is located in the Old City Quarter at 311 Fitzwilliam St.
“Check us out in October,” Marshall said, “then we’ll be at our full strength.”