We’re part of something called the Church of God movement, which is distinguished by a major centre in Anderson, Indiana. The name may sound a bit egotistical, but don’t fear, we don’t mean it to say we are God’s church and no one else is. The Church of God movement began with a desire for Christians to come together in unity as one church. The name “Church of God” was selected because of its common use in the Bible about the church. It started in the USA in the 1880’s and has since spread around the world. Church of God groups around the world associate with one another for the common purposes of mission, theological dialogue, and ecumenical initiatives.
Here in Western Canada we’ve got a regional office that takes care of administrative work like setting up this website and organizing annual events that allow everyone to come together and exchange ideas. As well, being a federally registered entity there are legal requirements that need to be taken care of to keep it all in good standing. We strive to give individual churches the freedom to reach their unique settings, trusting in their ability to hear from God and act accordingly.
We are a church, coming from something called the holiness movement (key words to search on wikipedia: Wesleyan, Arminian, Anabaptist, Free-church, Protestant). We don’t hold a formal membership (though many congregations create annual lists of voters for business purposes). We tend to hold a commitment to seeking what Christians have in common and to build on those things rather than emphasizing differences. We believe strongly in the work of God’s Spirit in the church and in the lives of individuals to:
The beginning of the Church of God began around 1940 when meetings were held in the home of several families in the Carstairs area. Included in these early meetings were the J. Radke family, the D. Radke family, the A. Wittke family, and the G. Hehr family. They also met at Harner’s store in Carstairs. Reverend Babel was the leader who also taught at Alberta Bible Institute in Camrose.
In the spring of 1940 an old church (which happened to be United) was moved into Carstairs from the Westcott district west and north of the town. The building, approximately 20’ x 30’, was purchased for $375. Two lots bought for $45 became the site for the building. The organ came with the church and was still in use in the early sixties. A loan of $600 was obtained from the Church Extension and Home Missions ,at Anderson, Indiana, the Headquarters of the Church of God. The loan was retired in 1948.
The first pastor in the new permanent building was Reverend A. Semrau. In 1942 a parsonage was built just east of the church. Cost of that structure was $875. Services were held in German in the morning and English in the afternoon. These were the years during the Second World War. Many attended from the town and the surrounding country.
The first Sunday School Superintendent was Mrs. Semrau. Reverend and Mrs. Semrau served Carstairs Church of God for 6 years.
In 1946 Reverend A.F. Irving became the new pastor. During his stay a 16’ addition was built at the back for Sunday School classrooms. Further addition of a front entry improved the exterior appearance and provided shelter from the weather.
In 1944 the Women’s Missionary Society was formed; Mrs. Lena Rivinius was the first president and Mrs. Frances Spicer the first secretary. They held meetings in the members’ homes each month.
The Irvings resigned in 1952 when Reverend D.C. Dressler was called as pastor. It was during his stay the old church building was beginning to burst at the seams and the building of a new structure was in the minds of the congregation. The decision to go ahead with the plans took much time and effort. Finally it was decided to purchase lots just one block east of the old church and erect a new building instead of moving the old building and renovating on the old site. A block of 10 lots one block east of the original site was purchased for a total price of $800.
The sod turning ceremony took place November 9, 1958 at 3 p.m. Work commenced the following day when the basement was dug. Due to snow and cold weather the labor was halted till April of 1959. The size of the new structure was to be 30’ x 56’. Work continued in the following weeks with a lot of donated assistance. Members of the West Zion Mennonite helped with the cementing and other work. The ladies of the church provided meals for the men and by November 22, 1959 the building was ready to use for services. Reverend Dressler resigned in September, 1959 after accepting a call to serve in Winnipeg. The dedication was held one month after the arrival of Reverend H. D. Johnson.
The cost of this new building was $13,000. A loan was approved from the Canadian Mission Board for $3000. This debt was paid off just three years later in November 1962. Another milestone in the work of the church in Carstairs was passed. Here is a photo of the Congregation from that year.
During the 1950’s a Children’s Choir was organized. Frances Spicer was the leader and Mrs. Bea Williams played the organ. This continued on for several years. Then in the early 1960’s Lorene (Snyder) Ruff formed a Junior Choir and they sang at the mortgage burning ceremony in November 1962.
Many projects were completed: updates to the parsonage, support of the Canadian Board of Missions, replacement of the organ with a piano, rugs and red velvet drapes for the front church.
The Bible Club was started in 1964 under the leadership of Mr. and Mrs. H. Johnson. Vacation Bible School was held for the kids in the town and Children’s Camp took place at the Didsbury Bible Camp.
A Board of Christian Education was formed in early 1961 and has been an asset to the work of the church. One of the Sunday School projects was to send a regular monthly offering the Canadian Board of Missions.
In 1960 the Young People’s Convention was held in Carstairs; it was the largest that had been held up to that time. The Women’s Missionary Society catered all the meals with the members of the congregation hosting the visiting groups. The number attending were approximately 200.
The Youth Fellowship was started around 1946; they have been an active group through the years. The year the new church was built they wondered what they could do about pews. The members of the Church Board had their hands full and some the young men asked if they could go ahead on this project. They received permission and 8 months after the dedication the new pews were installed in the sanctuary. The young men also purchased 25 additional new hymn books. The Y. F. placed more hymn books in 1956 along with donations from the congregation.
Some of the early evangelists to have meetings in Carstairs were Reverend Babcock, the Chugg Brothers, the Wattams, Mr. Nolwalko, Mr. H. Walkow, Mrs. Brown, Mr. Farmer, Mr. Howland and Mrs. Scott who provided puppet plays for children’s meetings after school.
In 1961 a Steer Feeding Program was launched, starting out with one farmer donating and feeding 2 steers. From the sale of those more were purchased and gradually it increased until 10 farmers were involved. The profits each fall (just the cost of the animal subtracted) after the sale was donated to the church for Special Projects ONLY (not for general expenses of the church). These projects included payments towards reducing the church debt, helping Pinegrove Camp, supporting Alberta Bible Institute, purchasing office equipment for the church. Later $50 scholarships for young people from the church who attended Bible school were distributed. The Steer Feeder project continued until 1977. There is still one farmer raising a calf each year from a church animal.
Reverend Harvey Johnson resigned in 1965 when Reverend DeMaere accepted the call to serve in Carstairs. During this time a full new cement floor was poured in the basement at the parsonage and the exterior was painted. There were also smaller updates.
The DeMaere family resigned in 1970 and Reverend Dewy Johnson and family accepted the pastor’s position. They had just returned from Cayman Islands as missionaries. During this time the congregation grew significantly. Additions for an auditorium/gym, new washrooms, new foyer and kitchen were planned. Work started in the fall of 1973, but little progress was made until the spring of 1974. The dedication occurred on April 20, 1975. The cost of the renovation was $120,000; the reason for this was the majority of the work was completed by the contractor and subcontractors. A loan of $60,000 was advanced from the Canadian Board of Missions and in 3.5 years it was retired. The Mortgage Burning Ceremony took place on October 28, 1979 at the annual fall supper.
A new organ was donated by Mr. Henry Sautter and girls in memory of his wife, Violet, and the new piano was donated by the Kellsey families in memory of Mr. Stan Kellsey and Ronald Kellsey.
The Dewey Johnson family left Carstairs Church of God in August 1977 returning to the Cayman Island for a 2 year term. The Stan Hoffman family, missionaries arriving from Tanzania, began serving that same month.
It has been 40 years since the opening of the Church of God in Carstairs and the work has steadily grown to where there are 130 – 150 in attendance. The missions end of the work has increased too.
Some of the highlights during 1974 – 1978 were people of the congregation going on Project Partners Work Camps to help build in Haiti, Trinidad, Barbados, and Tanzania. Reverend Dewey Johnson flew to Haiti; Vernon Light, Garry Kellsey and Garry Bistritan flew to Trinidad; Lance Duncalfe to Barbados; Lynn and Evelyn Bessey, David and Lorna Allenbrand, and Colleen Hoffman worked in Tanzania. They all brought back reports of the blessing they received in doing missionary work in the foreign field.
The old organ was sold in 1979 to Art and Ella Sheutzle. It was Ella who played the organ in the early services. Another organist was Edna Hehr.
During the years many young people of the church attended Bible School.
Submitted by Alma Snyder (with revision)