A half-dozen years ago, bullets flew into the walls of St Mary Ukrainian Orthodox Church in Surrey BC (part of the Greater Vancouver Regional District). That should tell you all that you need to know about the crime, drugs, homelessness, and squalor that surround the church’s gold-coloured dome in Whalley. Rev Mykhaylo Pozdyk said, “We’re like an island amongst sinners. The picture isn’t good, but we’re proud to be here to be God’s witness”. Although he said that dying in the church would be a “great honour”, it was fortunate that no one was around at the time of the drug-related shooting spree.
The church is on 135A Street, in a two-block section that’s generally-considered Surrey’s worst stretch of pavement. When Ukrainian immigrants chose the spot for the church 50 years ago, the town centre was thriving. Today, the building’s white walls and blue-painted trim stand apart from nearby vacant lots and rundown buildings. Fr Mykhaylo said that the street people in the neighbourhood are friendly for the most part, but thefts occur and church property is sometimes destroyed, noting, “People ask for money but they usually don’t want food”.
As difficult as life is for the disadvantaged in downtown Whalley, Pozdyk saw much worse under Soviet rule in the Ukraine, where he lived until moving to Canada in 1996. He said, “Here we have more respect and value for people. Canada’s a rich country with many government programmes to help them”. He went on to say that churches were shut down for several generations in his homeland and KGB agents lurked in every village and organisation, observing, “Communists denied God’s existence”. Pozdyk was secretly married in a church in 1987 at the beginning of Mikhail Gorbachyov’s period of thaw. Ukrainian people flocked to the churches when the doors opened after independence in 1991.
He stated that the churches there aren’t as well attended now because people chase after the same material goals as they do in the West, saying, “As soon as you sign a mortgage, you’re a slave to the mortgage. You have no time for God”. Although Pozdyk has bought a house here, and smiles about it, he remains faithful to his spiritual duties, telling us, “We’re temporary in this world… pilgrims. Freedom you can only find in God. We glorify God for everything we have in this life. We say ‘thank you’ for the forgiveness of our sins. I’m still a sinner and I’m trying my best to grow spiritually”.
IN A NUTSHELL
What’s your congregation’s religion?
Our congregation is part of One Holy Orthodox-Catholic and Apostolic Church.
What would you put in a tweet?
We’re blessed to worship in this beautiful little church that’s on the City of Surrey Heritage Register. We welcome everyone, and we’ll treat you as best as we can.
How many people attend services?
40 to 70
Jesus is the same yesterday, today, and forever.
What’s the most beautiful thing about your church?
Praising God and worshipping Him in spirit and truth together with all the people who come here and have hope that all their names will be written in the Book of Life.
Give us your sense of what’s happening in the area around the church.
Hard-working people who were busy with supporting their families built this church between 1950 and 1955. At the same time, they worked hard to build a new place of worship. At that time, it was a good area. Now, the church finds itself on one of the poorest streets in town.
26 April 2013