As part of our Featuring Communities of Faith and Ministries in Chinook Winds Region, Regional Representative Mary Shearer writes from Ralph Connor Church in Canmore, AB. You’re encouraged to send stories about your own community of faith or ministry. Check out details HERE
Ralph Connor Memorial United Church in Canmore AB was established in 1891. Housed in a heritage building that seats 80 comfortably, we have two services a week: Sunday morning with a pre-COVID average of 60 worshipers and Evensong on Wednesday evening with a pre-COVID average of 15 worshipers.
In March 2020 the doors to our church were firmly closed due to the pandemic. Many questions arose and the uncertainty was quite overwhelming. We want to share how our Mission and Ministries survived and thrived during COVID. The first response was to form a COVID Emergency Response Committee. This was immediately followed by the Pastoral Care Committee establishing a group of “care contact” volunteers to make weekly contact with all members and adherents, particularly anyone who lived alone. Council’s main focus was meeting the challenges of COVID. However, the council continued discussions on amalgamation with Rundle Memorial United in Banff, who approached us early in 2021.
Sunday worship was quickly available on YouTube and Evensong went online with Zoom. Rev. Greg Wooley and many in-home volunteers rose to the occasion. We had inspiring and creative worship delivered to our homes. Evensong, led by Jan Tissandier, with Zoom coordination by Judy Archer, found a new capacity to reach out to contemplative folks from afar. Music is an important part of our worship. Music director Tanya Sullivan held weekly choir rehearsals over Zoom and prepared SATB recording tracks to allow each choir member to record their part safely from home. Then choir “techie” Rick Anderson combined all into a virtual choir anthem using Garage Band. We got to enjoy our choir and soloists online. (You can sample the choir’s rendition of A Celtic Christmas) Two weekly prayer circles were formed. The Worship Committee organized worship-in-the-park for some summer services, with the mountains providing a glorious backdrop. Later a few indoor services were held at Rundle United in Banff.
Outreach is a major part of our Mission. After a strict Covid protocol was established, the AA group continued using our upstairs gathering space. We sponsor the Canmore Young Adult Network which serves the many young adults who are attracted to Canmore. They continued to reach out to this demographic of Canmore. Two Syrian refugees were received in the summer of 2020, supported through the Bow Valley Refugee Project. We take advantage of our location on Main Street. The Hospital Auxiliary set up a table in our front courtyard and raised funds for the hospital. In September members of the congregation greeted people on Main street every Sunday afternoon to learn about National Day for Truth and Reconciliation (also Orange Shirt Day). A new wedding ministry, led by Rev. Shannon Mang, is connecting with many couples wishing to have a Christian marriage in the mountains. We also help deliver meals once a week to Canmore shut-ins.
Initially, finances were a concern. A small group of people were successful in our receiving several COVID grants available, thanks to the excellent information and support coming from The United Church of Canada’s national Finance office and the Chinook Winds Region. Our regular and M&S givings did not fade. By the end of 2021, we had a balanced budget. We took advantage of the empty church to re-do flooring, improve airflow and other green initiatives. Solar panels were installed on our roof in the summer of 2021 with the assistance of Faithful Footprints/Faith & the Common Good, in concert with the Bow Valley Green Energy Cooperative.
We learned that our Mission and Ministry could continue even with COVID. The leadership and adaptability of our minister, musicians, administrator, council and committees were excellent. Council Chair, Ian Scofield, deserves special mention. Online services were very meaningful and will continue when we meet again in our sanctuary. There was good attendance for all types of services, with both Sunday’s and Wednesday’s online services showing numeric growth. Zoom worked well for meetings, Prayer Circles and Evensong. Our weekly online newsletter kept us connected and PAR was very helpful. Regular personal phone calls were greatly appreciated. Our Mission and Ministry stayed strong WITHOUT A BUILDING!
Ralph Connor Memorial United Church (www.ralphconnor.ca) is located at 617 Main Street in Canmore. Our worship services are available on the Ralph Connor Canmore YouTube channel.