Oak Bay United Church recently appointed a new permanent minister, and the congregation could not be happier.
Rev. Michelle Slater worked at Dunbar Heights United Church In Vancouver for 10 years before coming to Oak Bay with her husband and son last year. She had been working as an interim minister until last week, when she became the official minister of the church.
Although a much smaller community than she was used to in Vancouver, Slater said the transition to Oak Bay has been easy.
“It’s a beautiful place to live,” she said. “You get used to the slower pace.”
The greatest challenge Slater has had moving to a new city and a new church has been getting to know everyone.
“Ministry is really about knowing people’s stories so you can accompany them in their life,” said Slater. “It takes time to build relationships and get to know people.”
This has involved many coffee dates, get-togethers and Bible studies, she said.
“There’s so many people to get to know at once.”
However, Slater has already made a significant impact on members of the church.
“We all fell in love with Michelle the minute she walked in the door,” said Jamie Hillier, a member of the church. “She really makes every person feel special; everybody seems to really connect with her.”
Not only is she a joy to talk to one-on-one, Hillier said, Slater is also an engaging preacher.
“She has great stage presence,” he said. “She often preaches from her own perspective and she’s not afraid to put herself on the line and tell is as it is.”
Bronwynn Nestegaard-Paul is a new member of the church, and part of what drew her to Oak Bay United was Slater.
“In Michelle I found a real kindred spirit,” said Nestegaard-Paul, whose parents are both pastors.
“She’s a younger version of my mother. The same energy, the same exuberance, the same caring spirit,” said Nestegaard-Paul.
Since coming to Oak Bay United Church, Slater has put together various events to engage the community. Last year, the church had a booth at the annual Christmas Light Up, which they plan to do again this year. The church also had its first Easter egg hunt for the community, which Slater said was well received. Something unique the church did this year was participate in Victoria’s Pride Parade.
“The United Church is one that officially at the national level welcomes and celebrates people of all sexual orientations,” said Slater.
She plans to continue such events and do more to interact with the community.
“We really want to be focusing, this year especially, on being more visible in our community and serving and loving the neighbourhood of Oak Bay,” said Slater. “Something about being in a small neighbourhood means that people are quite invested in the life of the neighbourhood.”
Slater often sits in Starbucks on Oak Bay Avenue with her collar on and a diversity button. She said she enjoys talking with everyone and getting to know people.
“Jesus’ greatest commandment was to love our neighbours as we love ourselves. And how do we love our neighbourhood? Well we have to get out and engage with our neighbourhood and our community,” said Slater.
Oak Bay United Church is having an open house on Sunday, Sept. 7. There will be an all-ages worship service from 10 to 11 a.m. followed by a barbecue and a bouncy castle from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. There will also be tables featuring different programs at the church as well as community groups such as the Mustard Seed.