Its a Tuesday night in Whistler. The band is hot, the musics loud and the crowd is loving it. About 50 young people are moving to the rhythm and singing along. The lead guitarist looks cool as a lead guitarist should. He has baggy pants, a "Burton" T-shirt and a great voice. The crowd looks like a typical group of young Whistlerites baggy clothes, multiple body-piercings and rainbow-coloured hair. But these young people arent just looking for a good time, they are attending a Twentysomething Tuesday held by the Whistler Community Church, and they are here to celebrate their love for Jesus.
Going to church isnt the first activity which comes to mind when you think about Whistler. In a resort which focuses on the pursuit of pleasure, people are a lot more likely to spend Sunday on the slopes, rather than at church. But as the community has grown, so have the three local churches. Still, although the numbers are up, they are far smaller than the congregations in other communities the size of Whistler. But then Whistler has never been a typical community.
Right from the beginning, the early residents of Whistler approached things a little differently. In the early days of settlement in British Columbia, a church was usually one of the first institutions established in a new community. Pioneers would build a church on every corner and each denomination would have its own building. This didnt happen in Whistler.
The Whistler Skiers Chapel wasnt built until 1966, 50 years after the valley was first inhabited, and from the start, the chapel was unusual. A brass plaque affixed to the wall 35 year ago said "Whistler Skiers Chapel, Canadas First Place of Worship for all Faiths." The idea was that all faiths could share the same space. For over three decades, Whistlers churches have limped along. All the different denominations did manage to share the tiny cramped chapel and, until a few years ago, the size of the chapel was not an issue because the Whistler congregations were so small. On some Sundays, as few as five or six people would show up at services.
Last year, the tiny Skiers Chapel was torn down and nowadays it is not unusual for nearly 200 people to gather in the gym at Myrtle Philip School at the Whistler Community Church service. Whistlers two other churches, the United Church and Our Lady of the Mountains Catholic Church have also grown, but their numbers are much smaller, averaging about 30 to 40 people for a service. Tourists will buoy up these numbers on holidays and during the busiest part of the season, but for the most part the United Church and Catholic congregations are made up of a small core of hardworking members.