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Churches reaching out to Whistler community

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Taize service introduced by Whistler Village Church; New priest at Catholic Church

For many years Christians have been struggling to find ways to bring their message to the younger generation, and now two churches in Whistler have taken steps to publicly rejoin the struggle.

Whistler Village Church, which is a multi-denominational church led by Reverend Stephen Hershey, has started a service on Mondays at 6 p.m. based on a European youth movement called Taize.

And for the first time in three years Our Lady of the Mountains Catholic Church on Lorimer Road has hired a full time priest. Father Jan Gal, who was born in Slovakia, will now host Catholic services in Pemberton, Whistler and Mount Currie.

Reverend Hershey said it was important for all denominations to be dynamic and seek new methods of reaching their communities.

"This (the changes) goes back to recognizing that churches can’t sit back and assume that people will find them; you’ve got to work at it," Hershey said.

The Taize program has a large world wide following but Reverend Hershey said it was attractive because, unlike some modern techniques, Taize also "maintained the integrity of the church".

"In churches we call this evangelizing, which is proclaiming the good news, but I guess the contemporary term for it is marketing," he said.

A Swiss monk called Brother Roger created this method of teaching the gospel in the 1940s when he was living in the French town of Taize.

Reverend Hershey said the Taize movement holds appeal on several levels.

"The first reason is that there are a lot of young seasonal locals in town at the moment who could be looking for a place to really just slow down and be quiet for a while," Hershey said.

"The second is that we really wanted to solidify a mandate for the church because Whistler Village Church came from the Skiers Chapel in Creekside.

"We work full time at the Whistler Village Church and the Skiers Chapel had previously not had a full time priest, plus we’re multi-denominational and we wanted to start something that reflected that.

"The third reason is that I saw an interview with a doctor about two or three years ago and he said the spiritual part of your brain is right beside the musical centre of your brain.

"I decided to look for something that incorporated music – in an intimate, calm atmosphere – with learning about God."

Reverend Hershey said that Taize services usually began with a bible reading followed by a series of short, and often repetitive, songs that allow the congregation to focus on the message.

Candles and soft lighting ensure that the mood of a Taize service is more tantric than the traditional church service.

"You’re still participating in a Christian worship, but it’s just a different style," he said.

Taize is one example of new methods churches are employing to reach their congregations, but when a new priest arrives in a diocese the effects can be just as refreshing as a new method of preaching.

The Catholic Church’s new leader, Father Gal, arrived two months ago after a stint in Newfoundland. And while he is still finding his feet, it is already clear that the 36-year-old priest has many stories to share with Whistler’s youth.

Father Gal began training for the priesthood in 1986, when the Czech Republic and Slovakia were still one country under communism.

"The official government religion was atheism," Gal said.

"But I saw things in life and society in a different way than the way it was being presented by the official authority.

"I didn’t want to join the mainstream opinion because I felt at that time there was a need to bring new values and attitudes to the system.

"There were some advantages to communism, but I always said the price was too high.

"We had no freedom of travel… no free speech and no freedom of religion or even freedom of publishing.

"I went to university in Bratislava, for instance, and Vienna in Austria was only 50km away but we were never allowed to go there.

"And when there is no freedom of publishing it makes it hard to get the bible.

"Some people took a risk and tried to bring the bibles over the border, but if they were caught they would go to prison."

Father Gal is confident he will connect with the community quickly because he believes that all humans have the same kinds of needs, regardless of where they’re from or how well they live.

"Many people look at the bible as something that might have happened 3,000 years ago but across the centuries there are many things that are still true," he said.

"We call them transcendent truths, which are values such as peace, freedom, truth, love, respect, honesty and these are values the gospel talks about.

"The challenge is finding ways to help people discover these values."

The Catholic Church in Whistler meets at 4.30 p.m. on Saturdays and 9 a.m. on Sundays. There is also a children’s mass once a month.

With Christmas upon us all the churches in Whistler will be holding special services.

The main Catholic Christmas service is the midnight mass in the Telus Conference Centre at 11 p.m. on Christmas Eve.

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