Vancouver art community threatened by Westside Church


The Centre cartoon-benbuckley

Religious values working against what The Centre was founded on

By Gloria Mellesmoen
Photos by Ben Buckley

Religion, much like preference in sexual fetishes, is a matter of choice that should be respected as long it is not forced on anyone or inflicting non-consensual pain. There are situations where these stipulations are less concrete, an example being the recent acquisition of The Centre for the Performing Arts by the Westside Church. Though this purchase will likely be a good choice for the congregation, it poses a serious threat to the artistic and cultural community of Vancouver.

The Vancouver Sun reports that the Vancouver International Film Festival (VIFF), an event with a vast number of volunteers and supporters that was to take place at The Centre, has had their booking cancelled abruptly as of last week. This leaves mere months for the festival to find another venue capable of meeting their size and accessibility requirements.

The Goh Ballet is also left without promise of a location for their annual performance of The Nutcracker. While the two groups represent different mediums, they both represent artists with a passion and an ability to breathe life into their shows. While Vancouver receives lackluster reviews when it comes to entertainment, VIFF and the Goh Ballet prove Vancouver does have an artistic side worth protecting.

Since its creation in 1995, The Centre has been the stage for a variety of performers from diverse walks of life. It has provided a place for the community to congregate and appreciate the dramatic, comedic, and musical feats that are the product of years of dedicated work. Though it is commonly associated with public performances, The Centre plays an important role to others in the community who utilize the venue, like the various secondary schools who rent it for graduation ceremonies.

The Centre is a venue that accepts those entering for who they are, and does not discriminate upon anyone deciding to attend an event. While the Westside Church undoubtedly works to create community, its scope is not as inclusive. The church has publicly expressed objections regarding several topics, such as homosexuality, abortion, and women as elders in the church, which can make members of the community feel unwelcomed.

Sermon notes entitled “Two for One” are posted on the Westside Church’s website and denounce the act of divorce as shameful and wrong. As the child of a divorced couple, I have firsthand knowledge of the discomfort that exists when navigating the religious world while not quite fitting the values laid out by a congregation. I remember seeing a Christmas play with my mother at a local church that capitalized on the importance of parents staying together because it’s the right thing to do. We stopped attending that church soon after.

Most religious groups do have definitions of morality and righteousness built into their sermons and placed as strong recommendations, if not requirements, for their congregation. This alone is not an issue, as everyone has a right to believe what they will. The problem arises when these beliefs create a division on the community.

The Westside Church buying The Centre for Performing Arts takes a venue rich with diversity and turns it into one with rigid values that exclude or cause discomfort for many in the community. Vancouver is home to a population boasting an acceptance of differences. The Centre is an element of this, a place recognizing performing arts as an important part of the city’s culture belonging to everyone. Though the Westside Church creates inclusive space for those identifying with the congregation, it fails to resonate with the greater community and is therefore inflicting a problem Vancouver has not consented to.