From CFL athlete to Google innovator to academic dean

Heart of our City: Dave Stirling’s influence stretches beyong church walls

He’s worked in Canada, India, Africa, the United States and Costa Rica.

He’s worked in Canada, India, Africa, the United States and Costa Rica.

He grew up in St. Thomas, Ontario, a smaller city close to London, and has resided throughout Ontario in Guelph, and Petawawa as well as in Selkirk and Thompson, Manitoba (known as the “Hub of the North, located 740 kilometres north of Winnipeg) and Vancouver, among other places.

And through his travels, it was a small, coastal city known as Prince Rupert that five years ago drew the eye of Rev. Dr. ‘Pastor Dave’ Stirling — a man of innumerable gifts and talents — and it brought him to the North Coast.

“I’ve always wanted to be involved in communities that are really going to grow and develop,” he said last week.

“I really like history and one of the things that’s a passion of mine is to realize the importance of the west coast – not that others haven’t – but many explorers have been along the coast, so even before Charles Hays found Prince Rupert, First Nations had identified the significance of this location.”

Pastor Dave, as he’s well-known in the community, is the co-pastor at the Bethel First Baptist Church, but his involvement and reach goes far beyond the walls of the church.

Dave’s extensive history in academia, business, medicine, sports, spirituality and children’s development has enabled the North Coast resident to have a unique perspective on some of the issues facing Prince Rupert as a burgeoning city.

Currently, Dave serves as the fire-rescue chaplain in the city, has formerly been the Prince Rupert RCMP’s chaplain and has been on the Community Enrichment Society executive board along with the Hecate Strait Employment Development Society.

The list of organizations outside the boundaries of the city David’s been involved with … well that’s another matter.

A former Canadian Forces member as a second Canadian guard in Petawawa, former Canadian Football League (CFL) prospect with the Montreal Alouettes as a defensive half-back, amateur diver, board member and professor and chairman of undergraduate programs at Simon Fraser University, academic dean at Trinity Western University, board member of the Langley Memorial Hospital Board, professional speaker and business consultant, ‘Pastor Dave’ uses his faith as a vehicle to help others “be the very best they can be, regardless of gift or talent”.

Dave was even part of the team that sold the word-prediction typing tool to Google, an innovation that came out of a developmentally-disabled children’s literacy program he helped develop.

“With all of these things, my biggest passion is ministry. Working with people – helping all of the children [in the community] to never say no, to be able to continue on when things don’t seem possible,” said David.

Husband to Candace Stirling, David met his wife at Hamilton’s McMaster University while overseeing some of the facilities in the summertime.

“I had a chance to run all of the conference facilities and she was part of an organization that had rented them so I was dealing with her at that level,” he said, joking that they both took to compromising on some of the demands Candace’s organization wanted out of the conference venue on David’s watch.

Together, the two have four grown children — Andrew, Graeme, Katharine and Martha — and a few grandchildren. Beyond their immediate family, David and Candace have fostered an astounding 331 foster children.

“I’ve always been involved in pastoral ministry, even as an undergraduate at Guelph, I was always involved in that. Part of the avenue [I took to Prince Rupert] may have been developmental disabilities. Being able to work with children and their families to create opportunity for them … I’d like to still be involved at a level where they can be getting job opportunities. It has to be very specific and the skills have to be well-developed but the pathway could be created,” he said, adding that the church has opened up a child growth and development centre to help families and friends with area children’s disabilities.

In his work as fire-rescue chaplain, Dave has been surprised by the number of critical incidents that he’s helped support the RCMP and fire department with for such a small town, but adds that he couldn’t have asked to work with better people.

“We are really blessed here in Prince Rupert. We have just excellent, excellent first responders … I’ve seen detachments in different locations and not that one is better than the other but the people that are here in service are first class plus, and the community – I’m sure they’re appreciative,” he said.

While Dave is a pastor at Bethel First Baptist, he says sometimes with those working in ministry, people can get the wrong idea – that he may have a singular focus on the religiosity aspect as chaplain.

“Very often, what’s not really well-understood is the difference between say, Christianity and religiosity. What the chaplain deals with, it’s an interdisciplinary practice. So I happen to be a pastor and minister of a Baptist church. That’s not an agenda. So as a result it’s all about spiritual formation.

“When you look at a nurse or doctor, they need to practice in five domains: the physical, the social side, there’s an emotional side to medial practice, there’s a cognitive side and there’s a spiritual side,” said Dave.

Through his consultations with numerous business companies (David himself used to be a hotel owner), Pastor Dave has learned that the socioeconomic problems facing Prince Rupert can’t be solved by a single cure-all solution but by looking at three facets of bringing large industry to Prince Rupert.

“The satisfaction from Rupert is not going to come [strictly] from LNG,” he said.

“When you talk about sustainable community development, sure we’ve got to extract the natural gas and we need to do it well and refine it …. second is environmental sustainability. [Dr. Barb Faggetter] has been hired by the city to take a look at what the environmental impact will be. If it’s negative, the question is how negative. The third piece which isn’t even on the radar at this point is the human capital side – what impact the industry will have on the community,” he said.

“The answers aren’t in any one profession or one company or in any one enterprise … We’re going to have multiple disciplines here. We’re going to have engineers and social scientists looking at what the issues are in the community. We’re going to have people in finance and those elements related to business.

“It’s that sustainable community development model and that fantastic community that brought me here,” he said.