Airdrie’s oldest worship community is in a transition period.
Luckily, members of the congregation have an experienced leader to guide them as they head into their 115th year.
Reverend Karen Holmes took over the reins of the church in April, after Reverend Dave Pollard—who served the church for 10 years, the longest term in the church’s history—moved on.
The Holmes who was born in Edmonton, graduated from the University of British Columbia with her masters in theology and was ordained in 1988.
Her job is to lead the church while the congregation, which numbers up to 85 on a typical Sunday, chooses a new permanent minister, but that’s not the congregation’s only priority.
According to Holmes, the aging building, portions of which are almost a century old, is wearing out, forcing the church family to make some tough decisions.
“We are here in a time of change,” said Holmes, noting there has been discussion over the past three or four years on obtaining a new building, with the challenge being on how to fund the project.
The church is in good hands with the minister, who has experience leading churches in transitional times.
“This is what I love to do,” said Holmes. “It’s putting everything that I can [think of] in place, so the future can appear.”
Funding a new building might require new partnerships or possibly selling some of the property the church owns, said Holmes, adding it’s doubtful the church would change locations.
The minister, wife and mother of two grown sons is also thrilled to be the church’s leader in a time of celebration, as the congregation’s 115th anniversary approaches.
Airdrie United Church’s journey began in 1902-1903, just a few years after the earliest settlers moved to the area, when the Methodists decided to construct a building.
When the congregation, which was nondenominational, outgrew the building, members worked together to build a new church on the United Church’s current site along First Avenue.
The church was completed in 1921-1922, and that phase of the building now serves as the front of the present-day sanctuary. It’s century-old stained-glass windows and solid oak pews set that portion of the building apart.
But what really set the church apart, said Holmes, was the nondenominational worship that went on inside its walls. Every Sunday Methodists, Presbyterians, Anglicans and Catholics visited the small church with both a Catholic and Protestant service taking place.
In 1925, the United Church of Canada was born out of a movement that believed worshippers should be united. It was a good fit for Airdrie’s small communal worship site, which became a United Church at the same time.
Despite the change, Airdrie’s Catholic worshippers continued to share the same space with the congregation for a total of 50 years.
For Holmes, who has been a minister since 1988, uniting in worship made sense, especially for the pioneers in the area.
“They were all neighbours on the prairies,” she said. “If you didn’t connect, you wouldn’t survive.”
The 1960s saw an expansion of the church’s facilities, when phase one of the Christian Education building, located on the site along First Ave., was built.
That building was added onto in the 1970s and both, said Holmes.
The church itself also saw an expansion in 1987, with the back portion of the building being added.
But Holmes said it’s time for a new building and a new outlook.
“The city’s growth over the last 20 years has been partly missed by the congregation,” said Holmes, noting the aging building has been an obstacle due, in part, to its lack of accessibility.
“The church is at a significant time, and I think Airdrie is at a significant point as well.”
She said although the church will soon be 115 years old, its value in the community is being rejuvenated.
Holmes, who has led several churches in Calgary including those in which she served alongside her minister husband, said although many memories have been made in the old building (which still hosts numerous weddings and funerals each year), replacing the church with something should be thought of as exciting.
“It’s not a sad thing that the church has worn out,” said Holmes. “Instead of feeling badly, we should celebrate the fact that it has been well used.”