For Terry Robertson, church administrator at the Columbia Presbyterian Church, the best-case scenario would be to have residents of the Vancouver Heights neighborhood become members of the church’s rapidly growing congregation.
“If they would like to attend church, we would love to have them,” Robertson said.
Right now, however, many who live near the church aren’t thinking of joining the nearly 1,400 people who regularly attend services. Instead, they’re thinking about how to keep them out of their lives.
Or more specifically, how to prevent churchgoers from parking in their yards, blocking their driveways or putting their children at risk when the churchgoers are late to worship.
“We want them to treat our neighborhood as if it were their own,” said Jen Garrett, who lives in the neighborhood and has two children, ages 7 and 9. “I think people forget that; they are late, they are in a hurry. To them, it’s a place they visit for an hour.”
Concrete blocks line the outer edge of yards in the Vancouver Heights neighborhood to keep cars from tearing up green, manicured lawns.
The church recently demolished an old house to make room for a parking lot. Along with the home went a handful of decades-old fir trees — and, residents worry, a drop in their property values.
“I recognize they are a business and they have to keep their business moving forward, and as their congregation grows, they will have to accommodate — and I get it,” said Julie Clark, whose house is across the street from the church. “It’s just a bummer it happens to be in a neighborhood, and if they could make amends. …”
In the past couple of weeks, there has been a break in the neighborhood conflict.
The church apologized for not doing more to reach out to community members. Church officials plan to put up a basketball hoop in the new parking lot for the many children under the age of 12 who live in the neighborhood, and plant new trees to replace the ones torn out.
Members of the church’s top brass have met with neighborhood groups twice. The second meeting, Robertson said, was “much more pleasant” than the first.
Now, on Sundays before church starts, congregants are reminded to drive slowly while in the area. And the church is also supporting the neighborhood’s efforts with the city to get new signs, speed bumps and curbs.
“We want to be good neighbors,” Robertson said.
The church is in the process of doubling the size of its main sanctuary and has added an elevator between two levels. The original sanctuary, Robertson said, was built in the late 1950s. The church not only has a growing number of worshippers every Sunday, but also houses a preschool, along with hosting several events and meetings.
Jordan Bott, whose home is closest to the new construction, has lived next to the church most of his life. His grandparents lived in the home he now owns, and his father after them.
Like most of the parents in the neighborhood, his first concern is for his son, who is 14, and daughter, 7, both of whom enjoy riding their bikes in the area.
But he also misses the large trees that once created a green canopy.
And he can’t help but wonder, “what happens if they expand again,” he said.