Presbyterians – Who Are We?

Understanding the Presbyterian Church

The word “Presbyterian” comes from the Greek for “elder”, and refers to the governance of the church. Elders are church members elected for Christian service by their congregations to represent them and to serve God and the church. There are two kinds of elders who participate in the government of the church: ‘ruling elders’ are elected laypeople, and ‘teaching elders’ are ordained ministers.

The theology of the Presbyterian Church in Canada is founded on the teachings of the Old and New Testament. Its theology is called “reformed”, meaning that it belongs to the body of churches that the Reformation gave rise to in seeking to recover the teachings of Scripture. Such beliefs include:

• The belief in the Trinity – God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit – as central to the faith. God is the Father to whom we come, the Son through whom we come, and the Spirit by whom we come.

• The belief that the Bible – composed by writers understood to have been guided and inspired by God – is considered to be the written Word of God: the most authoritative source for faith and practice.

• The belief that the sacraments – communion and baptism – are visible expressions of the gospel, given as a way of entering and encouraging the Christian faith.

Our churches use various styles of worship, but we are all focused calling people to assemble as a community of the faithful and to offer praise and proclamation that identifies them as a people of God and disciples of Christ. With lively variations, our worship calls people to unite in worship before the God who created, saved and sustains us, to hear the living Word proclaimed through the reading of the Scriptures and the preaching of the gospel, and to respond with song and praise, with celebrating the sacraments of the Lord’s Supper and baptism, and with prayers of thanksgiving and compassion for the world God loves.

Presbyterians work to bring the grace of God to all people at work and at home. This transformation begins in their own lives as they grow in Christian faith. Their hands have improved the lives of abandoned children, homeless men and women, communities shattered by war or environmental disasters, and refugees searching for a second chance.

The Presbyterian Church in Canada
The roots of the Presbyterian Church in Canada are Scottish (our mother Church was the Church of Scotland which is Presbyterian), but our Canadian heritage includes the work and witness of French Huguenots (Protestant) settlers who came to Canada in the 1600s. Of course, many people have come, and continue to come, into our denomination from other branches of the Christian Church.

Many Presbyterians in Canada have their churches named after Reformers, particularly John Calvin (a Frenchman) and John Knox (a Scot who was influenced by Calvin’s teachings). John Calvin (1509-1564) has often been called the “father” of Presbyterianism. Calvin lived in Geneva, Switzerland. From there, Presbyterianism spread throughout Europe. Calvin, like other reformers, worked hard to develop a church where everyone, not just the clergy, shared responsibilities. Schools were established to provide education for both clergy and laity. John Knox (1515-1572), after studying with Calvin in Geneva, returned to his native Scotland to establish Presbyterianism. It soon spread to northern Ireland, the United States and Canada. In 1875, several groups of Presbyterians formed a union and called themselves The Presbyterian Church. Our church has been independent since then.

Today, The Presbyterian Church in Canada has about 1,000 congregations with members coming from many national and racial backgrounds. For example, there are now 20 Korean congregations. Within our denomination there are many different languages and styles of worship. There are congregations that worship in English, French, Korean, Chinese, Taiwanese, Hungarian, Spanish and Portuguese. In the 1990’s The Presbyterian Church in Canada welcomed new Korean and Ghanaian congregations.

The Presbyterian Church in Sapperton
On September 9th, 1890 St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Church, New Westminster (now Emmanuel Pentecostal Church) took steps toward the forming of 2 new congregations: one in the ‘west end’ of New Westminster, and a second in Sapperton.

With support from the church’s supervising bodies, the Rev. W.C. Mills arrived on January 13th, 1891 to serve as minister to the soon to be founded congregation in Sapperton.

The congregation was officially constituted on March 25, 1891, with services being held in ‘the old school house’ on Hospital Street (now the current site of a church itself) until the present sanctuary was ready for occupancy, later in that same year.

Knox Church Sapperton, Charter Members
Mrs. Thomas Allan, Mrs. C. McKenzie, Mr. F. Stewart, Mr. W. Fraser, Mrs. Thomas Kilby, Mrs. F. Stewart, Mrs. Dickinson, Mr. John Thompson, Mrs. Alex Stewart, Miss Dickinson, Mr. W. Scott, Mr. P. McDougall, Mr. J. Yorston, Mr. W. Sclater, Rev. Robert Jamieson, Mr. C. McKenzie, Mrs. W. Sclater (& 3 daughters)

The First Elected ‘Ruling Elders’
George McKenzie, Finlay Stewart, James Kennedy

First Session Report

“In all 51 members have been admitted to the Sapperton Church, 37 by certificate, 14 by confession of faith. Three members have withdrawn to join West Church. Nine infants have been baptised into the congregation during the last year and one Communion service has been held. The prayer meetings have been well attended throughout the whole year and it was a source of great encouragement to the Pastor.

The Sabbath School and Bible class have been kept under very favourable circumstances, the old school house building, being very much too small for the purpose as well as a shortage of teachers.

We are very much indebted to Mr. Goodwin of the Baptist Church for coming forward and teaching the bible class when none of our own members could see their way clear to do so. We hope that the school will now be properly organised and carried on. We have much reason to thank the Lord for HIS goodness toward us as a congregation and pray that HE may guide us in all we do in the future.”

Respectfully submitted,
J. B. Kennedy
Finlay Stewart
George McKenzie


Human Sexuality

For the past several decades, The Presbyterian Church in Canada has studied and discussed questions related to sexuality, particularly questions related to same-sex marriage and the roles of LGBTQI people in ministry. During the 2021 General Assembly, The Presbyterian Church in Canada agreed to make changes to its theology and practice regarding marriage, recognizing that people may define marriage either as a covenant relationship between a man and a woman or as a covenant relationship between two adult people. These decisions provide Presbyterian ministers with liberty of conscience and the freedom to choose to officiate or not officiate at the marriages of same-sex couples. Additionally, the church agreed that LGBTQI people (whether married or single) can be ordained and are welcome to serve as ministers and ruling elders.


In 1994, the church recognized that we are called to be a welcoming, nurturing, loving and supportive community, a true church family, and to repent of homophobia and hypocrisy. In 2021, General Assembly adopted the final report and recommendations of the Rainbow Communion, which outline ways for the church to acknowledge harm to LGBTQI people through public confession and apology, as well as necessary policies and programs that will help the church include LGBTQI people more fully in all aspects of ministry.