For the people of Abbotsford’s Central Heights Church, it was a special thanksgiving service on June 27. It marked the end of two hard years since the floor collapsed at the front of their sanctuary during a full-house Starfield concert, Apr. 25, 2008.
The June 27 celebration service marked the first time in two years members of Central Heights could all meet together. Since the collapse, they’d gathered in three separate services in the smaller Nikkel Hall. Now, with permission to re-occupy their big auditorium June 24, 2010, that circumstance was behind them. “Blessed are those who dwell in your house” was the first song that Sunday morning, and the singing swelled with the line, “We will go from strength to strength.”
In 2008, many people said it was amazing there were no deaths when the floor gave way. They still say that. But the costs to the church, quite aside from costs to victims of injury in that unthinkable mishap, were high.
Scores of CHC members worked hard. They toiled alongside the paid construction people rebuilding the auditorium and its supports. They cleaned the sanctuary and foyer, which showed the dust and debris of two years of non-use and construction activity. They helped keep construction costs down by doing site preparation and cleanup for the workers.
The load was especially heavy on pastors, staff, and church leaders. While doing three services, and carrying an unusually heavy pastoral burden, leaders also had to cope with layers of insurance, engineering, legal matters, and administrative issues. The Capital Projects Committee carried the burden of hours of thought and research into CHC’s building options – even exploring shutting down the big church to split into church plants – before rendering carefully-thought-out recommendations to rebuild and carry on. Periodic media bursts coloured the atmosphere by speaking of class-action lawsuits (later abandoned) and dozens of injuries. It was a hard two years for everyone, but especially for leadership.
There were many blessings in that time. In addition to the great spirit of volunteerism, people were generous, and God’s hand seemed to be in the details, too. The congregation had authorized a credit line to expedite the repair work, but not once did Central Heights have to borrow to pay the bills. The insurance company and the contractors, said senior pastor Chris Douglas, were amazing and did a great job.
For all the hard slogging, people say, they grew in their faith. From the night of the collapse, retired pastor and CHC member John Balzer says, God’s presence was evident, as concertgoers gathered for prayer in the parking lots and in quiet corners of the building. And now, after such a wait, “it’s a wonderful time to be part of the church. In our difficulties [we have learned again that] Jesus Christ sees us through.”
Pastor Chris Douglas preached on God’s faithfulness and goodness. In those two years, he said, the congregation had to wrestle with what God’s goodness means. For Douglas and his wife Dianne, a cancer scare – later found to be benign – added to the stress of the time. He found personal strength in Psalm 73, and used that psalm as his sermon text. Regardless of what happens, whether we are in despair or in a happy state with our life situations, Douglas said, God’s nature does not change. The reminder for Central Heights is a profound reality: “Our circumstances are not an accurate reflection of God’s goodness and faithfulness.”
The two years provided three main lessons, said Douglas. First, to think biblically about God, we must understand that God is good even when the floor collapses. Second, God uses episodes to remind us about what is important; namely, what makes a place holy is the presence of God and unity in those who share Christ – not an auditorium. Third, “it is in the fleeting darkness of human tragedy that the light of Christ shines brightest through the lives of his followers.”
“Thank you, Lord,” he said, “for the journey.”