|A 40 Year Journey with God
Compiled by Rev. Don Crowder, October 2012.
The history of West Highland Fellowship Baptist Church is proof of God’s wondrous grace to a small group of believers who found him always faithful, always bountiful, and always leading.
In March 1972, six couples residing on the west mountain had a vision of establishing an evangelical church to minister to the burgeoning population ofHamilton. Weekly prayer meetings were established in various homes to bathe the vision with prayer. In September of that same year, the first Sunday service was held in a public school.Before the end of 1972, due to the influx of interested people, evening services were held in the Terryberry Library.God blessed and more people started coming, adopting the vision as their own.
Brian Baxter was the first pastor, beginning his ministry in January 1973. God blessed and the church grew enabling the purchase of property at the corner of Garth St. and Limeridge Rd. Within a year a building program was initiated, and on May 18, 1975, the cornerstone was put in place. A multifunctional building was erected with a seating capacity of 225. The mortgage was secured by the equity in the homes of committed members. This was a huge step of faith for a small group of people who were convinced they were following the plan of God. Many of the original families still worship at West Highland.
Weekly door to door visitation, youth meetings and a women’s Coffee Hour were established. Adult Fellowship Fun Nights were held once a month to encourage more visitors. Evening Sing Songs and Pot Luck dinners made others feel more than welcome. The youth invited their friends, neighbours brought neighbourhood children and, with God’s abundant blessing, the work continued to grow.
In 1977, Ian Kirby-Smith accepted the call to West Highland and the church began to bulge at the seams. He remained at WHBC for five years and then accepted a call to another pastorate. And God continued to bless.
The key to the success of West Highland’s first decade was prayer and total commitment. Everything was bathed in prayer, seeking God’s guidance and blessing on each and every new step.
The 1980’s were a time when the congregation had grown into a strong but still maturing church family. Lambert Baptist had arrived bringing his heart forevangelism and Bible teaching in his enthusiastic and infectious way. Soon over 300 members and adherents were attending every Sunday morning.
Now Bible school space was limited, the portables were maxed out, the auditorium lacked adequate seating, and the foyer was too small.So, after much prayer seven acres of property was purchased further south on Garth St. Through the time of planning for a new building the Spirit of God continued working in his people: the ministry of Pastor Baptist was blessed, people were saved and baptized, and the Word was took root in people’s lives.Witnessing all this, believing, and having a positive, visual, reachable target had a galvanizing effect on the people.
Many gave sacrificially, some mortgaged their property in order to support the building fund, and many invested in church bonds so that building progress would not be impeded. There were also many who gave of their time to do physical work in order to keep costs to a minimum. In May 1987, the building at 1605 Garth St. was finished and became the new home for West Highland.
It was a glorious and celebratory day and the church was full of praise and thankfulness for all that the Lord had done. However the following Sunday it was still a congregation of around 350, sitting in an auditorium seating 750, and they couldn’t help but sense the new challenge that God was now laying before them.
In the third decade West Highland continued to experience salvation decisions, baptisms, additions to the membership and new people coming to services regularly. God was faithful.
United and ready for the ministry opportunities the Lord had in store for the church, the goal was to highlight the team approach to vision casting and implementation and to carry this theme to every aspect of the work. Lambert Baptist retired from the church and was followed by Deric Bartlett.
Many tasks seemed beyond what the people could handle, but they surrendered those concerns to the Lord and gave thanks as He miraculously met those needs. Each year brought new challenges which resulted in completion of the sanctuary pews, multi phased expansion of the paved parking lot, maximizing the physical footprint with the development of Christian Education rooms and a washroom for people with disabilities, and becoming officially incorporated as a church.
The most recent decade in the life of West Highland consists of three periods clearly defined by the presence, or lack thereof, of a Lead Pastor.
From 2002-2004 the Mission Statement that hung at the front of the church said the aim was To nurture, equip and commission fellow-believers to impact their world for Christ by sharing the Good News of His love. The core purposes undergirding this statement, and driving ministry direction, were summarized as To Exalt the Son of God, to Expand the Family of God and to Edify the Children of God.
In exalting the Son of God, the term "Authentic Worship” was coined and it became a key signature of this period.Heartfelt worship, special seasonal cantatas, and the faithful preaching of God’s Word contributed to the expansion of the family of God so that seating became an issue on Sunday mornings again.
This set in motion a series of actions: a target of 1450 worshipers became the trigger for a second morning service and the Church Community Connection (CCC) Task Force was established to consider a plan for the two unused acres of land to further connect the church with the community. By the end of 2004, the CCC committee was commissioned to engage an architect, consider the need to purchase additional land and negotiate the purchase.As growth continued, staffing became an issue to properly nurture and edify the growing number of believers. The Pastoral Care Coordinator position was solidified and the Joy Fellowship and Women’s Ministry Coordinator positions were created.
By the end of December 2004 the church said good-bye to Pastor Deric Bartlett who had led it for seven years through significant growth and positioned it for a new vision under new leadership.
God provided the right men at the right time.Five Interim Pastors stepped in with huge hearts of compassion and God-centered, body-life preaching.A period of introspection was ushered in by the Pastoral Search Committee as it grappled with what kind of church West Highland was and wanted to become and, therefore, what kind of pastor was needed to lead it into its next phase.
By the end of 2005, the church (for a while) was holding two morning services, the mortgage had been burned and the Internet/Multimedia ministry had begun. By June of 2006, the re-commissioned CCC committee recommended the purchase of an additional 3.7 acres to the east of the present property and the Let Us Secure the Land campaign was started to secure the down payment. By November 2006 church governance was being examined with the document "Key Principles for Effective Church Governance – Guiding Principles for Pastors and Deacons” instituted. That was followed by an effort to see how large churches "do church”.
Staff changes to meet ministry needs ensued and it was time to professionalize the administrative leadership of the office. A part-time Director of Administrationposition was created and filled.The Children’s Ministry was growing anddedicated attention to worship was needed so the combined position Children’s Ministry/Worship Leader was divided to strengthen both ministries. A part-time Children’s Ministry Coordinator was hired to give focused leadership in that area and the Worship Leader portion became full-time "Pastor of Music and Worship.” God saw that the church was ready for new leadership and in September 2007 the Pastoral Search Committee concluded its work and a call was extended to John Mahaffey to become the church’s next Lead Pastor.
Beginning January 2008, the first year of Pastor Mahaffey’s ministry was largely observation and interaction in order to understand before casting a new vision. Therefore, the ministry emphasis was to strengthen and improve existing ministries.It was characterized by sound and strong Biblical exposition, worship developed around preaching themes, intentional evangelism of adults through the Alpha program and improved assimilation of people new to West Highland into the life of the church. The latter was accomplished through a new and improved Newcomers Class and hiring of a Director of Integration. The church began to better reflect the diversity of the community around it.
By year-end, it was time to cast a vision. Vision 20/20 was unfolded with a new mission statement Making the Word of God Fully Known and the People of God Fully Mature. This vision is a ministry plan to guide our many ministries and church family toward the year 2020. Immediately, it began to impact the physical, spiritual, structural and staff areas of the church.
On the physical side, two committees were struck to deal with limitations that were impinging on the effectiveness of ministry: Operation Rehoboth saw to the expansion of the cramped Children’s Ministry area. The Dual Services Advisory Team was commissioned to make recommendations for two morning services and related children’s programs and the Outer Space Task Force, to deal with off-site office accommodation. All of these were successfully implemented and were capped off with the elimination of debt on the four additional acres of land to the east of the existing property.
On the spiritual side, prayer was emphasized through Seek Week at the beginning of the year and in summer the Mountain Prayer Summit complemented on-going weekly prayer meetings. The congregation was challenged to make Jesus the number one issue in the city of Hamilton and Hamilton Impact was launched to put this into action. The youth took this vision beyond Hamilton to Thessalon in Northern Ontario. Spiritual formation was emphasized with the entrenchment of home Life Groups as an essential part of church life. The Stephen Ministry took root.The spiritual health of students and children became a priority. New full-time directors were recruited for Children’s Ministry and Student Ministry.In addition, there was concerted effort to make West Highland a church home for McMaster and Redeemer University students who are living away from home so a bus was purchased to provide student transportation.
On the structural side, the governance of the church was changed to an Elders Board. On the personnel side, leadership and staffing changes under a new divisional structure, with the support of a Deaconate, empowered ministry leaders to be managers of their ministries. As part of these changes the positions Director of Administration, Director of Outreach and Director of Church Care were created and filled.
God has been generous to West Highland over its forty years and for that we are thankful. We wait expectantly for what He will continue to do in and through this church in the next phase of His vision for it, provided His people remain faithful to the gospel.
From everyone who has been given much, much will be required. (Luke 12:48)
Compiled with thanks from notes provided by Al & Betty Lynn (1972-1981),
Ken & Kathy Hajas (1982-1991), Tom & Linda Flack (1992-2001),
and Bob & Dorrett James (2002-2012).