In 1879, when the first white settlers began trickling into this Battle River area to establish their new farms, homes and businesses, they were happy to be able to hold occasional worship services in whatever locations they could find. The only building in the tiny Village of Ponoka in 1894 was the railway station, and it was there in 1895 that the first meeting was held and led by Reverend John Fernie, a lively Scotch Presbyterian from Lacombe for the purpose of beginning to satisfy the deep need of providing a permanent place to host family church services and Sunday school for the residents of the rapidly growing community and surrounding districts.
With great faith in God, a committee was quickly appointed and plans were formulated for obtaining $1,000 for the purpose of erecting a new church and manse building. It was a fact, however, that the initial amount that they received was actually $60, from which they used the sum of $14.75 to purchase some village lots that many decades later became the sight of the Central Alberta Dairy Pool. The committee, with the help and enthusiasm of the congregation and local volunteers, went out and gathered many logs and erected a building 16 by 24 on their new land, with some of the best wood taken to Mr. Kennedy, who was the superintendent of the first Sunday School and taught the classes during services in the train station. The wood was fashioned into 25 fine pews, which were used for many decades in the primary department of the Ponoka United Church.
In May of 1896, the first church in the Village of Ponoka was ready for occupancy, and proudly played host to the Presbyterians on Wednesday evenings, the Methodists on Sundays, and the Anglicans once a month. For the rest of the week, the building was used to conduct classes of the local school for a three month fee of $1, which was added to what little money they could gather to make the church more comfortable. In those early days of faithful worship, a collection was taken on alternate weeks, which averaged around 82 cents, and would not be quite enough to raise the minister’s yearly stipend to $20 as was requested. With a growing church congregation and support from the community and districts, the financial position improved by 1900 and on October 1, the Reverend John Mair would become the first ordained Presbyterian Minister in Ponoka with the promise of a yearly salary of $208. The rural pastoral charge of the Ponoka church was also later extended into the districts of Sylvan side and Eastside. By 1903, the grand old log church had completely outgrown its early calling, and the Presbyterians would build a new church on the site of the present Ponoka United Church. During those early years, many other churches sprung up and grew at a rapid pace in and around the community for the next two decades as more and more families reached out for faith and friendship, and to be blessed by countless other activities in those tiny but busy sanctuaries.
A real milestone for the church community came in 1925 when the Methodists and Presbyterians united across Canada, and here in Ponoka the Union Church of Ponoka was renamed the Ponoka United Church. In 1932, Hazel Hill became an additional preaching point, the pastoral charge was extended to the Zion Wood River church in 1939, and Interdenominational Sunday school was also offered for children of residents of the Ponoka Mental Hospital. Although the war years were quieter at the church, worship remained strong, and to justify the steady demand for a larger church and more facilities, the result from a great deal of faithful support was the opening of a brand new church on the present site on December 16, 1951. Some of the countless family activities that were added to the United Church congregation and extended out into the community included a Couples Club for Young Adults, the Triple M Club for Misses-Mr’s, and Misses, the Vacation Bible School, the United Church Teen Club and Hi-C group, Trail Rangers/Tuxes and Tyros, C.G.I.T. and Explorers for the girls, Mission Band, Cradle Roll and Baby Band, Bible Study sessions for adults, as well as the longstanding Sunday School classes, senior and youth choirs, United Church Women and Men’s Club, the Good Shepherds, who assisted the less fortunate in the community, and so much more.
Ongoing renovations, improvements, additions, and maintenance took place through the busy ‘50s, but with the Church Board entering into the Sector Plan in 1959, a substantial increase occurred in both membership and financial backing, and on April 3, 1960, plans were approved to proceed with the construction of a new sanctuary and manse. A dedication service for the new manse took place on September 11, 1961, then the new sanctuary was completed and blessed by over 700 guests on September 6, 1963. During the celebration, proud recognition was extended to the countless pastors and generations of United Church families, volunteers, community and districts for their keen fellowship and support over an exciting and faithful span of those first glorious 70 years. In the years that followed, many more renovations have continued in all areas of the Ponoka United Church, as well as reaching out to the community by hosting many weekly events in the sanctuary, the Thrift Shop, and the spacious adjoining halls and facilities. Thousand of folks of all ages look forward to attending such annual community presentations as the Kinsmen Carol Festival, Gymanfa Ganu, coffee and fellowship for the residents of Northcott and Rimoka Lodges, and on and on.
A delightful new partnership.
In 2008, the Ponoka United Church entered into a wonderful partnership with the talented community and district-based Klaglahachie Fine Arts Society, and together over the years, they have worked as a strong team in sharing the building, while hosting many amazing theatrical musical and arts productions for the pleasure of thousands of guests of all ages from near and far. Their latest efforts have resulted in a complete renovation to the sanctuary that features the addition of comfortable elevated seating and much more.
Everyone is invited to attend the re-dedication of the United Church Sanctuary on Sunday-September 13, 2015 at 10 a.m. A lunch will follow from 11:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. as well as a program from 1 to 2 p.m. with an unique opportunity to meet and greet the church members as well as the congenial cast and crew of Klaglahanchie, who come from all age groups and walks of life and love to have lots of fun entertaining others.