Canadian Church Service

In line with the continuing theme of ‘church services we attended whilst on holiday’, Helen and I recently attended a Sunday Morning Prayer Service at the McDougall United Church, Edmonton, Alberta. This was part of our regular two yearly trek to Canada to visit our daughter Vicky on Vancouver Island. Whilst visiting, we always try and take in a few more parts of this enormous country – Vancouver Island for example is as big as England and Newfoundland is nearer to Ireland than it is to the Canadian capital, Ottowa. This year, our trip took us to Edmonton, Jasper in the Rockies and Prince Rupert in the far north west of British Colombia.

The McDougall Church was a few blocks away from our hotel in Edmonton, so we decided to go along to the 10 am service. Before arriving in Edmonton, we were not aware of the fact that Monday 1st July was Canada Day, a celebration of getting rid of rule from the UK. This appears to be a good excuse for Canadians to exit the big cities and go off into the wilderness for a few days – Edmonton was deserted. The shops in the Downtown area (the centre), were all completely empty of customers and to a certain extent this was reflected in the church attendance which we were told was about 50% of normal ie. about 50 people. As always in Canada, everybody was very friendly and we all had a laugh about the fact that we had to ask the members of the congregation what they were celebrating, particularly as we were British.

The church building was a brick built, rather austere structure built in about 1910. The inside was tiered, rather like a lecture theatre. The first item on the service sheet was the singing of ‘Oh Canada’ – not a song or tune that we were familiar with at all, so we kept quiet. Apart from Amazing Grace, I think we were only familiar with a couple of the six hymns, but they were all sung with great enthusiasm with the assistance of a screen and projector.

The service was familiar but different – it felt very traditional and yet words to prayers were very inclusive and modernised.

The usual choir was not present as it was disbanded for the summer and there was only one child under 16 present which reflects the fact that many Canadian families had gone away for the weekend. A nice touch was when the leader still did a special slot for the child – she invited the child to sit with her in the front row and read a children’s story to him related to the bible readings and sermon. The grown-ups had to wait patiently and also listen while this was done. It really showed how valued the child was in the church family, it would have been very easy to have not bothered. The talk was relevant and interesting and the service leader was very friendly and open.

After the service we were invited to a Canada Day Barbeque in the churchyard. The invitation was gratefully accepted and we learnt that the church was in the process of recruiting a new vicar – there seemed to be various bits of complicated church politics involved in this process which rather reminded me of our last church in Shropshire, where the Readers and Church Wardens were under considerable pressure to keep the church running.

Also invited to the Barbeque were the local homeless people – Canada appears to have a real problem with this, particularly Vancouver which, in winter, has to cope with an enormous influx of homeless because of the warmer climate – Edmonton has to cope with ridiculously low temperatures in winter.

For this reason, most of the large shops are built underground on a system of internal walkways so one can avoid going out in the cold weather. Calgary is another city which employs this system, but Vancouver on the more temperate West Coast, has shops at ground level. All in all, we found Edmonton, a city of contrasts – looking out of our hotel window each morning, we had a view of various huge skyscrapers, with people sleeping on the street outside them.

As always, attending other people’s church services is a fascinating experience particularly in foreign parts and we shall look forward to doing something similar on future trips. 

John Bowes