It’s a new church. Well, not exactly. It’s really “a multi-campus church expression.” It’s called Imago Dei (Latin for “Image of God”), it uses a house church model, it has a particular interest in the arts community and it doesn’t make a clear distinction between church programs and its members’ daily lives. It breaks all of the stereotypes of church. But it has been accepted as a Mennonite Brethren “church plant”.
Imago Dei, self-described as “A Community Drawn to Christ”, was born in October 2002 out of spiritual longing. There were at first 15 to 20 people who, while not disgruntled with their current churches, were burdened by a feeling that they wanted to do more than they could do in their churches.
The catalyst for the founding of the group was Rob Des Cotes, who for several months had himself been sensing a call of God to do something new. Des Cotes’s background is as diverse as his new congregation. He studied at McMaster University in Hamilton, Ont., earned a Bachelor of Fine Arts in music from York University in Toronto, and earned a Master of Christian Studies degree from Regent College in Vancouver. For the past 25 years, he has been involved in Capilano Christian Community, an independent church in North Vancouver which had roots in Killarney Park MB Church in Vancouver. Des Cotes became half-time pastor of Capilano Christian Community nine years ago and full-time pastor four years ago. He has also worked as a professional musician and artist. He has had exhibits of his paintings, been a recording studio musician, recorded his own jazz album, written contemporary Christian music, played a variety of instruments from guitar to flute and taught theology and arts at Trinity Western University and Columbia Bible College. For the past four years, he has also been director of Vancouver Arts Network, an association of about 400 Christians involved in various artistic endeavours. The Vancouver Arts Network puts on a yearly city-wide arts festival called ManiFest, as well as producing quarterly showcases for artists and a monthly arts-expressed liturgy “where the creative arts become a means of discovering and expressing God’s presence among us.”
The core of committed people in Imago Dei has doubled in size to 30–40. They meet primarily in home groups. This is possible, Des Cotes says, because many of those involved have pastoral gifts. Some of the groups are geared to seekers, offering hospitality to people in their neighbourhoods. Other groups have a practical focus, working with the environment or in the arts. Still others are focused on encouraging the discipline and practice of prayer.
Many of those involved in Imago Dei are already involved in various ministries. One of the members is head of the Inter-Varsity Christian Fellowship work at the University of British Columbia. Others are involved with Eau2, a water reclamation work in India. Still others are involved with A Rocha (Portugese for “The Rock”), a group of Christians working on environmental issues. Others, like Des Cotes, are involved in the Vancouver Arts Network. Unlike other churches, this work is not considered ministry they do outside church, but the very reason for which the church exists – to release the gifts of others.
Serving as pastor to such a diverse, decentralized church also looks a little different. Des Cotes describes his role as encouraging people in the spiritual direction they are already sensing; serving as a co-discerner so that they can know themselves and see where God is working in their lives; and helping to create the “lampstands” upon which people can shine.
Besides its home groups, since February Imago Dei has been running two public gatherings a month in Fairview Baptist Church, 1708 W. 16th St. in Vancouver. On the first Saturday evening of every month at 7:00 p.m., there is an arts-based outreach service, featuring dancers, poets, film and music. Liturgies and other works of art are created specifically for these events in an effort to present the gospel in fresh, contemporary ways. For instance, the April 5 service took the theme “No Place Like It: The Prodigal Son story as you’ve never heard it”. Christians from many churches bring their seeker friends to these events and stay for a social time afterward.
On the third Saturday of the month, also at 7:00 p.m., is a “drawing-in” time designed to help Christians “respond to God’s presence in their lives”, a contemplative service featuring Taize-styled worship of sung prayer and communion.
In establishing Imago Dei, Des Cotes sensed the need for the support of a larger community and asked God, “Where is my family system?” The clear answer was the Mennonite Brethren Conference, because of Capilano Christian Community’s roots in Killarney Park MB Church. He contacted Conference leaders, who encouraged him to start something new rather than try to tack on what they were doing to an existing church. He was licensed for pastoral ministry by the B.C. MB Conference Board of Pastoral Ministries, and since Feb. 1 Imago Dei has been receiving funding as a church plant from the B.C. Conference Board of Church Extension. Further information about the church can be obtained by e-mailing Imago Dei.