Edmonton Free Methodist Church
110th Anniversary Celebrations 1905 - 2015
Anniversary Committee on behalf Congregation and Church Board
Introduction and Early Beginning
A Bible verse that captures the historical and contemporary experience of the Edmonton Free Methodist can be found in Romans 12:12 which calls on the faithful to “Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer.” The theme of hope, patience in tribulation, underpinned by prayer represents the essence of the Church. During the 60th Anniversary of the Church in 1965, the story of the Church was clearly attributed to the pioneering activities of some visionary Free Methodist lay preachers from the Eastern Canada, who had come to Alberta and sensing the need began to work with churches in Ontario and Michigan to help in the gospel mission to win souls on the Prairies. The practice of reaching out to both the immediate surrounding environment and areas beyond has been the guiding principle of the Edmonton Free Methodist Church.
In the early 1900s, the need to cultivate and harvest the spiritual fields in Alberta saw early pioneers like F.B. Lewis with the help of others to seek the assistance of the West Ontario Conference to establish a church. Specifically, the Conference encouraged Rev. O.L. King to volunteer to locate in Western Canada. Rev King was appointed as the District Elder of the Alberta District and his wife, Lizze King, served as a supply pastor for Edmonton. When the Kings eventually settled in the Edmonton, the beginnings of the Free Methodist church also began. In those days, the structure of the church organization and administration was from the District Elder, to an overseer, and then the local church. With an organizational structure in place, the business of evangelism was not only to build a physical structure for worship, but also a spread the word of God.
In terms of the physical structure, the Edmonton Free Methodist moved several times before settling at its present location. From the humble beginnings at a Camp Meeting in a Tabernacle, to the Parkdale Church (built in 1912) and finally its present Idylwylde site, where construction began in 1956. In each of these physical structures or spaces, the local church always worked closely with the broader church community at the district level and beyond. Each of these relocations of the church were ably planned under the guidance of leaders such as Rev. R. H. Shoup who was at the helm of affairs at the Parkdale Church and Rev. D. H. Russell at the Idylwylde Church. With a physical structure in place, the gospel practices were focused on preaching the word, placing a lot of emphasis on how to train worshippers to walk and talk according to Biblical principles. To attain these goals, several church-run committees were established, for example, the “State of the Work” “Reforms”, “Sunday School” and “Missions.” The Church had an abiding assurance on spiritual awareness and a total reliance on God, leading the slogan “Best of all, God is with us.”
Churches, like other organizations, depend on resources to finance their operations. In the Alberta of the 1900s till the 1950s, financial resources were scarce and levels of rewards were equally meagre. With an average between thirty and forty members during this period, meetings were aimed at consolidating the organizational structure of the church, raise funds to support church activities including pastoral support. Financial shortfalls were met with institutional loans. For example, Pastor G. Schnell who assumed office at Idylwylde Free Methodist in August 1966 spearheaded the move for an institutional loan, with the blessing of the District Office, from the Central Mortgage Corporation for a loan to build the parsonage. While there was a clear attempt at budgeting on the expenditure side, there was no commensurate attempt to show the revenue stream, hence the need to rely on institutional loans, including bank overdrafts to cover some emerging expenses.
The missionary zeal of the church was tied to identifiable church groups. These activities, it needs to be stressed, were both local and beyond Edmonton. In terms of the local, the Church worked with other sister organizations in fellowship. This was the case when, for example, the Women’s Missionary Society purchased drapers for the Church and supported missionary activities in China, Burundi, Japan, Haiti and India as well as organized the Church’s role in the World’s Day Prayer on March 5th, 1965. The Church also supported Canada-based institutions like the United World Mission for Christ and Local Outreach. Similarly, the Youth Ministry and Sunday School Board were deeply involved with social related aspects of the local as well other churches in Edmonton. The Church was thus an active social agent and even took part in public petitions. In January 1974, the Church sent a petition to the Edmonton School Board opposing the use of alcohol in school facilities. The commitment to missionary support was so strong that a decision was made that the Board enact a policy that will devote a set percentage of the budget to assist missionaries.
Following a self-study in March 1978, the Church set its sights on growth and enlarging its presence in Edmonton. At a February 7, 1979 Board meeting, there as a suggestion to merge the Idylwlyde Church with Parkdale. The suggestion, not surprising, was grounded in hopeful expectation and reliance on God’s guidance. Eventually, the Society meeting on November 12, 1984 put forward a motion to the Canada West Conference to propose a merger with Parkdale with a timeline to attain this goal by January 15, 1985. On the other side, Parkdale also voted on February 14, 1985 to merge with Idywylde and created a committee to out the modalities of the merger. Thus, one major event or milestone in the Church’s history took place in the mid-1980s – the merger of the Parkdale and Idylwylde Free Methodist communities and the eventual location at the present site. Although there is no documentation on how the congregation in both Parkdale and Ldylwyle reacted to the merger, it is reasonable to conclude that while some might welcomed it, others might not. However, against the background of Christian love and togetherness, Edmonton Free Methodist continued its life journey as a Christian community. The history of the current location of the Church began on February 27, 1972 with Rev. Keith Childerhouse at the helm of affairs.
The Immediate Post-Merger
The united church body set its focus on mission and devoted a tenth of the budget to missions. In that regard, the Church also organized mission nights, if only to give visibility to the goal and raise funds. Another revenue stream for the church was the purchase of a vehicle for rental activities. In terms of outreach, the Church pursued the idea of Care Cell Groups, restructured the Church’s organizational structure to better reflect competencies. For example, authority was delegated to each Board member. In the immediate aftermath of the merger, it was also clear that there must be an equal zeal for and focus on growth. Towards the end of the 1980s, specifically at the May 8, 1989 Board meeting, it was agreed that was a need for “a more aggressive program of evangelism and growth.” This set the stage for a change in leadership from Rev. Kevin Van Koughnett to Rev. Gunter Salzmann who assumed the reign of leadership in December 1989.
The attention to missions persisted with the donation of old hymn books to a sister Church in Saskatoon, renting space to another church. Paradoxically, almost a decade after merger, with no debt or mortgage, the Canada West Conference was hinting at plans to close the two Edmonton churches (the Idywlyde and Crawford Plains Methodist Churches) in order to begin a new project, a plan that did not materialize. The impact of the musings from the Western Conference rather energized the Church to outline bold administrative changes and incorporate the Crawford Plains
accounts into that of Idylwylde. The administrative changes identified Core Ministry and Giving Streams – Global Ministries; Church Planting; Educational Scholarship; Multicultural Ministries; Child Care. As part of this push, the Church continued the tradition of mission, first by hosting 11 Japanese students, under the auspices of Global Partners from July to August 1997 in addition to ongoing support to missionaries in Hong Kong, Ethiopia and the Democratic Republic of Congo. The energized environment also led to the revival of new activities like a renewed attention to youth activities and the social committee. The above, including the desire to set sights on and wait on the Lord, underpin the Church’s vision on the dawn of the third millennium.
The New Millennium and Waiting on the Lord
On the dawn of the third millennium the church was under the leadership of Rev. Bradley Bent. The focus in this era was on celebrating the community of believers through social gatherings, community outreach and liaison activities, including plans for church expansion in the short and long term. The emphasis on corporate worship was supplemented by an initiative to deepen Christian life through the Christian Life and Service Seminar (CLASS) series. Faith Projects were part of the church programming to raise funds for specific church activities. One other worthwhile program was a self-evaluation and network prayer agenda in 2005 and a renewed focus on youth groups. While the Church merged with another church in the mid-1980s, in the mid-1990s, specifically on the dawn on the new millennium the Church was confronted with the prospects of closure. However, the spirit to soldier on prevailed and that led to a deep sense of gratitude and the desire to continue to wait on the Lord through corporate prayer.
The emphasis on corporate prayer will anchor the first decade of the Church under the guidance of Rev. Patrick Lashley. While promoting the church through advertising and other community minded programmes, there has been a focus on maintaining and developing infrastructure. Building on the tradition of missionary support, youth engagement, and the church continues to support the missionary work in Ethiopia and opening opportunities in Trinidad and Tobago. Within the church community, initiatives such as recognition of members, Global Day of Prayer as well as Friday Evening Prayer and Bible Study have become essential aspects of church activities.
Any organization that survives for one hundred and ten years deserves credit, recognition and also offers some lessons for the future. For the Edmonton Free Methodist Church, the following observations are appropriate. First, church membership and attendance are subject to changes over. Beginning with averages between thirty and forty, some higher averages between seventy and eighty were recorded from the later part of the 1980s and the 1990s and into the first decade of the current millennium. Church membership and attendance at the moment average between thirty and forty. Thus, the drive to sustain membership and attendance cannot be underestimated.
A second valuable observation is that church communities are extensions and reflections not only of families but also the broader community. In terms of families, the Edmonton Free Methodist Church has been blessed with several generations of families. The membership record shows generations of the Frend, Roesti, Dubetz and Hammond families. It is therefore gratifying that the church continues to boast of the enduring activities of members from those families, with Muriel Hammond, as arguably, the longest serving member in the church. In reflecting the broader community, the church has welcomed both the pioneering settlers on the Edmonton and continues to serve as a site open and welcoming to the contemporary diverse population in Edmonton.
Finally, it will be remiss to assume the one hundred and ten years of the Church had not been without growing difficulties or pains. For example, the merger would have created some tensions. So also has been changes in church leadership and administration, which, in turn, have implications for church membership and attendance. However, like a community of believers the Edmonton Free Methodist Church, through its ups and downs, has survived a century and a decade. Throughout this period, the church had waited on the Lord for guidance and direction. There is no reason to doubt that those ingredients will be abandoned anytime soon. Thus, the community of worshippers rejoice and look forward to another century of worship with a hopeful expectation that is consistent with the pioneering spirit of the early missionaries who brought the Free Methodist tradition to Edmonton.