Central Heights Church amid the wreckage
On April 25, 2008, a Christian rock concert in Abbotsford, B.C., was interrupted by the unthinkable: part of the sanctuary floor collapsed, injuring some 40 people. The event, while horrific, brought the church and its community closer together as it attempted to cope and minister in the aftermath. The stories from that night have been well covered by regular media. This is the story of the church.
To senior pastor Chris Douglas, it seems as if God had been preparing Central Heights to handle the aftermath. Just as the band Starfield was into its second number before some 1,200 fans, a 25-by-25-foot area collapsed, dropping people, heavy church pews, equipment, and building materials into the hole and onto the concrete one storey below. It’s a miracle, said Douglas, that nobody was killed. Three people have possibly life-altering injuries, while others are expected to recover with no long-term effects. The church has a sense God was gracious in this.
Although some people feared there would be many negative experiences in dealing with the aftermath, there have been none, said Douglas. (A class action lawsuit has been filed by a father of two concert-goers, but no court date has been set.) News media were respectful and gave sensitive coverage. People rallied around. A church in a poorer section of Abbotsford came the next day with $3,100 to be used for emergency expenses – and it got used. A man who had lost his business in a fire some years ago brought a big box of cookies and words of encouragement.
The church held three sessions for victims, staff, and families to debrief after the incident, and was grateful that the Billy Graham organization and Power to Change both sent trauma counsellors to help. Conference staff were also a strength, he said.
“We started to realize God already had people in place and prepared us,” he said. Expertise was found right within the church. For example, executive pastor Steve Boakes came into ministry from the business world – in insurance! – so he dealt with the adjusters. The list could go on.
Immediately after the tragedy, Central Heights rallied together. Young concert-goers gathered in clusters to pray, church staff and many members were suddenly present to do what was needed. Staff pitched in to ensure that victims in all four hospitals were all right and received visits. That night, the leadership figured out what needed to happen, and less than 48 hours later, Central Heights was holding a Sunday morning worship service in the gym of nearby Columbia Bible College. “We didn’t skip a beat,” said Douglas, “and looking back, there were markers – we can see God’s hand. The right things happened. The right decisions were made. It was amazing.”
The church is praying for the victims, and members continue to visit with families and patients in hospital.
While healing continues and engineers look for the cause of the accident, “we are back as a church doing what we do,” said Douglas. “But we have more of a sense of dependence on God. We pray harder. And somehow, we are more focused on our desire to reach our community.”
In the aftermath of such an unthinkable incident, Douglas says, “We have seen the church at its best. We have seen God’s faithfulness.”