Thursday, March 10, 2011

What Makes a Church Unique?

by Anita Mae Draper

My church attendance history is as varied as the communities in which the buildings were located. My father never went to church and Mom didn’t drive. Come Sunday morning, Mom would herd us four kids to the nearest church for Sunday school and Morning Worship and dinner would be ready by the time we walked back in the door.
 The Baptist church wasn’t the biggest we attended, but we sang choruses as well as hymns. I really liked this church and have my first memories of actually listening to the sermons there. And I even learned the meaning of a rhetoric question one morning because the pastor asked a question and I knew the answer so I put my hand up. He smiled down at me and said, “Yes, Anita?” I answered his question and heard laughter ripple through the congregation. Mom told me to shush and said he was asking a question, but really knew the answer. Oh. I began to listen to how the pastor made his delivery using rhetoric questions to get us thinking. But, I never put my hand up again.

When we lived in a Ukrainian neighborhood in Winnipeg’s inner city, we attended a Ukrainian evangelical church. This church was a unique experience because the pastor spoke first in Ukrainian, then translated in English. My step-dad was of Ukrainian heritage, but us kids didn’t understand the language, so during that part of the sermon, we sort of vegetated. ie counted the ceiling tiles, etc.

Another church where language was an issue is the one we attend when we visit my mom. Thunder Bay, Ontario has the 2nd largest Finn population in Canada. This church has an English speaking pastor and one straight from Finland. The church offers a service in each language every Sunday morning. Because my mom’s husband is Finn and can’t read an English Bible, we go to the Finn service. Thanks to technology, headphones with translation is offered for both services except for the music portions.

When we were in the military, attending the on-base chapels was an experience, too because you only had a choice between Roman Catholic and Protestant. Because they knew people of different protestant denominations attended, they offered bi-weekly services so that one week was of the Anglican faith where we used the kneelers and the other week was United where we didn’t. And instead of pastors, they were called padres or chaplains. This whole experience was so different because there I was used to a pastor in plain clothes and I was attending church led by a padre dressed in priestly robes. Here’s the website of an Anglican priest who is working as a Canadian military padre. This blog was a revelation because it shows a chaplain training course which included several denominations including Pentecostal and Baptist pastors.

On our second posting to the air base in Cold Lake, Alberta, we bought an acreage off-base and joined the local Alliance church in the town of Grand Centre. This church was packed every Sunday, a first for us. It was also the first civilian church we attended with two pastors - not counting Mom's Finn church. The unique experience of this church happened when the church decided to branch into the nearby town of Cold Lake. Because we lived between the two towns, we were one of four families that chose to start attending the newly planted church. I remember our new pastor had mixed feelings about the venture. He admitted to being sad to leave the old church where he'd been the assistant pastor. But he was also thrilled to finally have his own flock.

Part of this unique experience was when we consecrated the new church building. Although it had been used as a church previously, the minister had been a real hell-fire and brimstone preacher who had ‘scared-off’ the parishioners. One of the first things we did was pull down a huge banner which hung in the front of the church and declared, ‘Repent or Be Damned!”. Then we each went into different corners of the building and prayed for anything not of God to leave. With that done, we asked Him to bless every inch of the building and property and let all who enter find peace and answers.

Church on the Hill, Glenavon, Saskatchewan
Which brings me to our present church. As many of you know, we live on a prairie farm with a fifteen minute drive to the nearest town. However, we’ve chosen to attend a small country church thirty minutes away in the town of Glenavon. Since the church is located on the only hill in town, we’re called Church on the Hill, or COTH for short, with COTHY for the youth group. In the 10 years we’ve been attending COTH, the congregation has doubled from 20 to 40. Like I said, it’s a small church. But we fill the church (100 people) with our gospel concerts where we’ve hosted a variety of acts like Canadian Dove award winners, cowboy musicians, and  The Link Family from Missouri. This year already the Rawlings Brothers from Alberta and Joey Theriault from nearby Wolseley have blessed us with their music.

Joey Theriault singing old time gospel, Where Could I Go But To The Lord in one of my first attempts at making a YouTube video:

And that’s what makes COTH unique among all the churches I’ve attended – it’s variety of music. Instead of having a worship team that plays together every week, we have several families that take turns leading worship. So one week you’ll have the pastor’s wife, Diane Bonk playing piano with her preference for hymns. But the next week you could have the Keller Family with their old time country gospel sound. My husband and son, Nelson and Nick, lead worship once a month with Nick singing and Nelson accompanying him on guitar. Before Lori moved away, she played guitar and used an accompaniment machine she called a ‘beat box’. Last Sunday, Allan Turberfield debuted as a worship leader with a new sound – a deep bass with accompaniment tracks. I love that half the Sunday service is worship.

Nick singing accompanied by Nelson on guitar

Our pastor is a rancher with a unique way of presenting the gospel. Short and truthful. During the summer he’s gone most Sundays preaching at the prairie rodeos. Now those cowboys don’t sit still too long, so Pastor Lorne doesn’t prolong the service. Just like the old time saloons that used to close for the service then pour the drinks right after the final amen, the rodeo beer tent is where you’ll most likely find the rodeo churches. And whether he’s in a church building or a beer tent, Pastor Lorne gives the gospel as he sees it in a language the cowboys understand within twenty minutes, thirty tops. When I told him once how much I appreciated that, he said something to the effect that, “Once you tell them what they need to hear, why grind it in?” He includes song, prayer, and a silent altar call with his message. Then he invites the cowboys to talk to him if they want to learn more. Short and to the point.

Sometimes however, while Pastor Lorne’s gone off with the Fellowship of Christian Cowboys, those of us left behind get to hear visiting preachers. Most of them have been coming back every summer and we look forward to their visits. But Pastor Lorne has spoiled us, you see, because we’re so used to his brief messages, we forget that preachers like to talk. And when a preacher is being paid to travel to a service, he wants everyone to get their money’s worth. Let’s just say we’re not as appreciative as we should be some of those summer Sundays.

But I still love my little country church and I thank God for guiding us to it. (Even though we still have the old wooden pews because it costs too much to replace or pad them.)

What about you? Is there something unique about your church that you’ll like to share?

Fun Question: What do you sit on at church? Wooden pews, padded seats, cushions on wooden pews, plastic ‘bucket’ chairs, etc.

Anita Mae Draper is retired from the Canadian Armed Forces and lives on the prairie of southeast Saskatchewan, Canada with her hubby of 30 plus years and 2 of their 4 kids. In 2005, Anita Mae decided to return to writing and make it a priority in her life. She writes old west stories set on the prairies of Saskatchewan, North Dakota, Montana and Wyoming. Her characters are strong because the land demands it. Anita Mae likes to write characters who sit up and notice when that special person God’s chosen just for them walks by. The story is all about the courtship between the two main characters. But it won’t be an easy path. And if they don’t know about God at the beginning of the book, they will by the end. Anita Mae has finaled in the 2009 Linda Howard Award of Excellence contest in the Inspirational category, the 2008 Gateway to the Best in the Contemporary Series category, and the 2008 Golden Gateway in the Long Contemporary category. She’s currently waiting to hear the phone ring and have someone say they want to buy Emma’s Outlaw. Meanwhile, she’s working on another story and trying to keep her imagination in check. A pathological picture taker, she usually has a photo or two of the quirky world she lives in on her blog at


  1. What unique experiences! I'm sure there's a wealth of stories to draw upon for your writing.

    I am between churches right now. My father was my pastor for most of my life. When he died several years ago, the church brought in a pastor who only stayed for about 16 months. The church split and our family was voted out. My mom and one of my sisters moved one direction and my youngest sister and I moved closer to our jobs. For several years we traveled nearly 90 minutes to go to church with them. That pastor recently retired so we are searching for the right church for us in our own town.

    Thanks for sharing your experiences! Your church sounds like a great place to serve the Lord.

  2. We've got padded pews now and awesome music. Though I've sat on pretty much everything from wooden benches, to those white plastic patio chairs. The church in Gabon was so tight on space that they set out all the seats right up to the podium. Then they would collect up the chairs when it was time for altar call, so that there was room for people to move.

    In Seychelles, there was a mix of homemade wooden benches and plastic chairs. In Russia we had church in a building that was once an Eastern Orthodox chapel, was taken over by the communists and turned into a movie theater and was finally being used again for spiritual purposes. We had service in a hospital auditorium too. Oh, and the hotel we stayed at was a former mental institution. I said, former! It wasn't used that way when I was there. (As far as I know...)

    Those translated services can sure last extra long, huh, Anita?!

  3. Wow, Anita, you've really had some church experiences!

    I was brought up Catholic, but was always looking outside the box!

    Our little town had "ecumenical services" during lent which were hosted by a different church each Sunday. It was my first exposure to anything creative taking place in CHURCH... plays, art, special music, etc.

    Loved it!

  4. Hey Christine, I hear you there. Looking for a church is not an easy task. There are so many different churches out there and each have their own good points and faults. Some preach more about Jesus while others preach more about the Holy Spirit. But as long as they follow and preach on God's Word, what does the name outside the door mean?

    On your search, pray for guidance before entering a church and keep your eyes and mind open. If that is truly not a place God wants you, you'll feel His nudge. He wants you to feel peace and He wants your spirit refreshed and encouraged as you face the stress and trials of everyday life.

    I've added you to the prayer app on my iphone. And I'm praying that you find a church of comfort, healing, and wisdom.

    Thank you for sharing with us today, too. :)

    Anita Mae.

  5. Oh Lisa, you've truly had some unique experiences. Now that makes me wonder if places used as churches on Sunday only are consecrated before each service?

    That reminds me about the protestant church on one of the air bases I worked on. I didn't attend this one, but worked across the street from it. And one weekday morning, the parking lot was packed with cars and MP vehicles were right outside the front door. Because of my job in the Commcen, I was the one to send the message to Ottawa later that day. I was so creeped out typing that message because it detailed how someone had broken into the church the night before, turned the cross upside down, painted things on walls, moved the pews around, and basically worshipped the devil right there. Ugh. The message then confirmed that the church had been re-consecrated and was ready for the Sunday service.

    And yes, those translated services can get very lengthy for everyone and not just the kids.

    I hope you use some of your experiences in your books, Lisa.

    Anita Mae.

  6. I was brought up Catholic, but was always looking outside the box!

    Cheryl, that's a great way to look at it! :D

    When you mentioned creative, I immediately thought of Dina because she uses creative dance in her worship.

    One of our members sometimes uses the gauzy 'flags'. She'll go into the foyer where there's room to move and we'll hear her clothes rustling as she spins and turns, flutters and waves her flags. Sometimes I wish we had a bigger church so she wouldn't have to be behind us, you know?

    It sounds like you were open to nudgings of the Spirit from an early age. Good for you! :D

    Anita Mae.

  7. You have sure experienced a variety of worship options in your lifetime! I've been more limited, particularly now that I work for our denomination but I have visited a few liturgical services and like their emphasis on scripture too

    And I liked your comment above that mentioned it not mattering about the name above the door as long as God's word is preached. That is SO true.

    We have padded chairs in our building -- much more comfy to sit on!

    Has the currently forecast snow hit your part of the province yet? Nothing here yet and I hope it stays that way!
    Elaine k

  8. I love this post, Anita! Your church sounds wonderful, and I like how you all do music. Great picture of Nick and Nelson!

    I've attended many churches in my time but it does seem like the vast majority of them have had wooden pews.

    Our church has some unique architectural features, and our altar has a story: it was on display at the Pan American Exposition in NY in 1901, and President William McKinley knelt in prayer before it shortly before being assassinated.

  9. Hey Elaine, snow? Again? It finally stopped snowing day before yesterday. I just went outside because I heard something flying overhead and the sun is gorgeous and warm! My temp says 7C but the official ones say 1C/34F. But, how long ago was that? Mind you, another hour and it'll start cooling off again.

    Padded chairs, eh. When my butt had more padding I didn't mind, but now that I've lost a few pounds, those old wooden pews are downright miserable. Just another reason I'm blessed that Pastor Lorne doesn't keep us sitting too long. :D

    Thanks for stopping in, Elaine. And don't you dare send any more snow from the north!

    Anita Mae.

  10. Hey Susie, talk about an altar story. So reassuring that the president was a godly man, though. We need those kind in power.

    And can you imagine... when we get to heaven, we'll get to walk amongst all those people who were considered 'great' here on earth. And of course, those like Jesus who were truly great, but not appreciated.

    I've sat in many padded seats, too but somehow, I always feel humble in the old wooden pews. Perhaps its because of my background where we lacked so many material things. Sort of like the parable of the rich man having a hard time getting into heaven.

    Yes, I like that picture of the guys, and I love hearing Nick sing. He's only 15 and his voice has really deepened in the past few years. :)

    Thanks, Susie.

    Anita Mae.

  11. You are so right, Anita, the "trappings" don't matter a bit as long as the Word of God and the message of Christ are being preached.

    We have padded chairs. I personally would prefer pews, because chairs are forever getting out of place.

    We also have lots of contemporary music... my daughter is our worship leader (sings and plays keyboard), son #1 plays guitar, son #2 plays drums, son #3 runs sound, SIL sings.

  12. You are so right, Niki. I've been in those kinds of churches, too. Since the cost of making pads for our pews is just way too high for our small budget, the board is thinking of replacing them with chairs. But as someone who takes a turn and cleans the church, I can't imagine how much time it would take to move all those chairs around to clean properly around the legs. And with the arthritis in my back, straight vacuuming is a hassle - can you imagine me after moving 100 chairs around? Ugh!

    Most of the songs Nick and Nelson pick are contemporary or Hillsong type, too. I look forward to hearing your family worship team some day. Your house must sound joyful when they practice. :D

    Anita Mae.

  13. I have only gone to two churches since my teen years (started out at a very traditional Presbyterian church that was big gray stone block with castle type "guard tower" along the roof). The two churches were both non-denominational and were housed and held in old school buildings.
    Just last year my church bought two buildings from a landscape business and now we have a real sanctuary inside what used to be the storage building. Real carpet and nice padded chairs.

    I loved seeing Nelson and Nick. Oh my, that is wonderful. What a blessing to have your whole family involved!

  14. When we first married, my husband said he wanted to attend a small church. We found one, and worshipped there for many years. Then we moved to this area -- and ended up in a church that seats about 1,500. Quite a change.

    In the small church, we knew everyone. Go out of town for a weekend, and you had a bulletin in your mailbox by Tuesday, which I always thought was kind of cool -- made me feel missed. Our children were born when we attended that church. Son #2 spent weeks in NICU, and the people of that church gave of themselves like you wouldn't believe to help us through that time. They were our family, and they did everything they could to show they loved us.

    With a large church, you can more easily be a spectator and not a participant. But we've found that if you go with an attitude to serve, God will always find a place where you can put your talents to use. The large church has been surprisingly good for my oldest son, now a teen. And his younger (handicapped) brother is something of a rock star. Everyone knows Nathanael, even if they only know me as Nathanael's mother.

    I guess you could say God has put us where we needed to be when we needed to be there.

  15. Yikes, sorry I didn't stop by yesterday, Anita. I've been crazy busy.

    Our church is unique in the expression of the worship arts. We use a lot of dance and drama. We also have easels in the back for people to paint during worship. For most of the last year, our painters have worked on giant murals for both sides of the sanctuary.

  16. Deb, your description of the churches with the 'guard tower' sound like all the United (UCC) ones here. We have Presbyterian too, but it's the United that are big and imposing.

    You sound comforted to finally have a 'real' dedicated santuary. You reminded me of a time we attended church in a school auditorium for half a year but I can't remember why. Mom was a 'church-hopper'so it could've been any reason. A fire comes to mind, except I can't remember a church we attended burning down. But it was the first time I was in theatre-type seats without being in an actual movie theatre.

    JJ sings backup for Nick sometimes but he doesn't like to practice and if he skips that, he doesn't sing. House rule.

    I think if my family ever got together with Niki's we'd raise the roof. :)

    Anita Mae.

  17. CJ, bless you for having an open spirit in your search for a new church.

    And I hope you are reading this, Christine, because CJ's story is a reassurance that if you allow Him to guide you, He'll lead you to a church that needs you as much as you need it/them.

    Your comment is such a blessing, CJ. Thank you.

    Anita Mae.

  18. Of course it was a crazy busy after your big 'call' announcement.

    I think this is a wonderful way to express what's in your heart during worship. The boys brought artwork home from first one and then a second retreat this year. The church was so impressed, they're going to display them for all to see.

    However, Nick doesn't want to bring his in because it's called, Rebellion. You see, they were doing Button Art and were supposed to use buttons in their design. Nick didn't want to. So when the counsellor looked at Nick's paint only design, he remarked, "A bit of rebellion going on, I see." The name stuck and the artwork is still buttonless.

    Congrats, again, Dina.

  19. Very cool post, Anita. I loved reading about your church experiences. I think that a Ukranian church would be interesting to visit.

    I love the pic of your husband and son together.

    Dina, your church sounds awesome and I can totally picture you there soaking it all in. :-)


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