New heart and spirit at St Giles Presbyterian Church

The Rev. Paul Yu is the recently arrived minister of St Giles Presbyterian Church.
Photo: Patricia Brush

By Paul Wu

It has now been six months since I accepted the call to serve as minister of St Giles Presbyterian Church. Given the longevity of the congregation and many of its members, I am still very much a new kid on the block.

Ever since selling the Logan-Vencta Hall across First Avenue from the church, the congregation of St Giles has been on a path of revitalization. Significant resources were committed to repair and improve the physical structure of the sanctuary. You may have seen some of those works when passing by the corner of Bank Street and First Avenue during the last few years. The congregation is also aware of the need for renewal from within – to repair and improve its spiritual condition. A significant component of that work was to engage and call a settled minister, and that is where I have been brought in to play my part.

I am an immigrant from Taiwan, having come to Canada in 1984 at the age of 14. Prior to being called to St Giles, I served a Presbyterian congregation in Montreal for almost 12 years. Having worked in a multilingual and multicultural ministry and having experienced some success in congregational renewal, I am well aware of St Giles’ expectations and hopes in that regard. Starting a new ministry during a global pandemic has its challenges – I have yet to meet some members of the congregation who are staying mostly at home. There are, however, three distinctive traits that I have observed about St Giles.

First, the congregation is resilient. During the past 15 months of pandemic restrictions, the leadership of St Giles has kept the sanctuary open for in-person Sunday worship within the limits that government health guidelines permit. Strict health protocols (such as social distancing and mask wearing) are enforced. There has not been any reported outbreak of COVID-19 at St Giles during this time. The congregation has also invested substantially in audio-visual technology to make sure that services are available on multiple platforms like Zoom and YouTube. These efforts are designed to welcome all people to this caring community of faith in the heart of the Glebe.

Second, the congregation is generous. Regular giving is up since the start of the pandemic and giving for mission purposes is up substantially. Through Presbyterian World Service & Development, St Giles recently concluded a fundraising campaign to help Malawi through its COVID crisis; the church is now considering another campaign to assist India.  Meanwhile, through the Centretown Churches Social Action Committee, St Giles continues to engage in meaningful ways to help those who are at the social margins in Ottawa. Once the pandemic restrictions are lifted, the congregation will resume housing a number of AA groups that have utilized St Giles before.

Third, the congregation is open to change. With my Asian background, I am keenly aware that my employment at St Giles is already a notable change. However, the change that I am referring to is the congregation’s realization of the need to “do church” differently, whether it be in music, preaching, hospitality, fellowship or different ways of blessing the community and sharing the message of Jesus Christ more effectively. There seems to be a positive energy running through the leadership core of the congregation. Of course, skeptics would say that I am still in the honeymoon period of pastoral ministry. “Wait until you are in year two or three!” they would say. Nevertheless, I am hopeful. I am looking forward to getting to know more of the congregation and more of my new neighbourhood of the Glebe.

The Rev. Paul Wu is the recently inducted minister to St Giles Presbyterian Church.

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