Worshipping Together

Byron Bailey's home

Canadian Presbyterians donated more than $233,000 through Presbyterian World Service & Development in response to the fires that tore through Fort McMurray, Alta., in early May. Nearly 90,000 people were evacuated from Fort McMurray after the fires jumped the Athabasca and Clearwater rivers and burned down 2,400 buildings, including 2,000 homes. All members of Faith, the Presbyterian church in town, evacuated safely. Clerk of session Brenda Brewer contacted all members and regular worshippers. A couple had lost their homes; all were safe with family and friends or at rented rooms around Alberta.

Rev. Dianne Ollerenshaw, director of regional ministries for the Synod of Alberta and the Northwest, is the interim moderator during a clergy vacancy, and drives up from her home in Calgary to lead worship every few weeks, and to hold session and search committee meetings.

She met with the Faith session in early August to discuss how best to distribute the PWS&D funds. In an email to the Record, she wrote: “It takes time to roll out the money because we want to ensure the priorities meet needs of people in Fort McMurray, [and] the values of PWS&D and we want to work with partners who will ensure there is fiduciary accountability of the funds. The session has had input about the priority of needs and we hope to reach out to the Presbytery of Edmonton-Lakeland for input.”

Faith’s most recent minister, Rev. Lisa Aide, had notified the congregation in the spring that she had accepted the call to a church in Ontario closer to her family. The fires came quickly, and the evacuation process was immediate. Residents were not allowed re-entry for three weeks. Aide never did make it back to town for a closing worship service. She had served Faith for eight years since graduating from seminary. A sense of loss and lack of closure is felt by the congregation.

In its four decades in Fort McMurray, Faith has not had a church building. They met at a local high school’s auditorium, which has expansive audio/visual facilities. The congregation does have a manse for the minister. Since the fire in May, the school has been closed for cleaning and refurbishing. The congregation has been meeting in the manse, with members leading worship on most Sundays.

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About Andrew Faiz

Andrew Faiz is the Presbyterian Record's senior editor.