Anglican Church serving community for 105 years

The Anglican heritage dates back to the earliest days of Christianity in Anglo-Saxon England. During the Reformation of the 15th century the Church of England separated from the Roman Catholic Church, and Anglicanism quickly spread as British colonists settled in North and South America, Africa and Asia.

Although many changes have been made along the way the St. Mary’s Anglican Church has been located at this 5120-49th Ave. location since 1914; and have faithfully served their Ponoka and district parishioners for 105 years.

Although many changes have been made along the way the St. Mary’s Anglican Church has been located at this 5120-49th Ave. location since 1914; and have faithfully served their Ponoka and district parishioners for 105 years.

The Anglican heritage dates back to the earliest days of Christianity in Anglo-Saxon England. During the Reformation of the 15th century the Church of England separated from the Roman Catholic Church, and Anglicanism quickly spread as British colonists settled in North and South America, Africa and Asia.

It was a very long time ago on Nov. 11, 1904 that a certain Mr. James Hall Smith, who was listed as a Northwest Territories farmer, had advertised a bare piece of land titled lot number 11 in the Town of Ponoka. This lot would sell for the princely sum of $140 to a small group of dedicated Church of England members from Ponoka and surrounding districts, and would in time become today’s St. Mary’s Anglican Church of Canada.

In order to raise this large sum of money, a number of women formed a Women’s Auxiliary, with Mrs. Sam Lucas as the first president, and was noted as the first Anglican Church Women’s Club in the Diocese of Edmonton. Through their dedicated efforts a truly amazing amount between $200 to $250 was raised at a gala chicken dinner for the town, and this came at a time of no freezers, dishwashers, or supermarkets in the tiny Village of Ponoka.

Following the very successful event the women continued to make ice cream, storing it in cupboards full of ice, and selling it Saturdays to people coming into the Village to shop and visit with family and friends. The result was the beginning of a dream of having a worship place of their own and the new church became an exciting work of progress. As early as 1893 services for the local Anglican Church congregation were held each and every week in numerous locations; including the new CPR train station, the old Co-op store, in the Forester’s hall over Peter Horn’s Blacksmith Shop, and in the Presbyterian Church.

Services were conducted by traveling missionaries, who made the trip here by horse and buggy, and later a Mr. Harold C. Webb, who was not ordained but became very highly thought of. The very first Anglican wedding was solemnized somewhere in Ponoka on June 1, 1905 with Reverend James Atkinson uniting long-time bachelor William Caldwell to Evelyn Matilda MacKay.

It was not until the year that the parish finally had it’s very own building, and Ponoka’s first coveted “English Church” was located at 5120-49th Ave., exactly where it stands today. The population of the town at that time stood at 720 and with the quick growth of both the community and surrounding districts, the church added an addition in 1921, and the first Parish Hall was completed in 1928. The Hall was also used for many years as an electoral point for provincial and federal elections. As the church membership grew, it was blessed with countless activities both night and day. While only three local weddings were listed in the St. Mary’s records from 1905-1914, the first official wedding in the new English Church building was on February 17, 1914 between Elias Jenkins and Hannah George.

In the first church everything was hand-made, including lovely frontals, oak altar and pulpit, the Minister’s and Bishop’s Chair; along with a classic pedal-pumped organ. More and more enthusiastic men and women were now worshiping God in their own church, accompanied by their children, who had been scrubbed within an inch of their lives for the Sunday and special Anglican Church year round occasions. As horses and buggies waited patiently outside, the new church would either be too hot or too cold inside, with services sometimes having to be changed to suit the weather conditions or allow the members to do their chores first.

But the enthusiasm of worship and fellowship never changed, as the Anglican Parish family had a total of 54 members in the first two World Wars, as well as supporting these vital efforts and many other special causes for both their church and community. These included delightful fowl suppers, Christmas concerts, Easter services, Shrove Tuesday dinners, bazaars, teas and an extremely active Sunday school. The ongoing efforts of the Church Women’s Group were front and centre, and there was also a Men’s Vestry team, Eucharist and morning and evening Prayers.

In 1963, the old Church was torn down, and a new church was dedicated on May 2, 1965, and was consecrated on June 12, 1974 by the Rt. Reverend Gerald Burch, Bishop of Edmonton. Renovations and additions throughout the years have included: stained glass windows, the tall copper spire, washrooms, exits, tile floors, a cottage roof, new pews, additions to the hall, and many unique changes to the church interior. Among the many highlights along the way was the burning of the mortgage on April 15, 1999, the wonderful celebration of the 100th anniversary in January 2003, and on and on.

Today St. Mary’s Ponoka is a part of a three-point parish with the parishes of St. Peter’s Bashaw, and St. Pancras in Alix.

A list of the clergyman serving the St. Mary’s Anglican Church congregation for over a century have included: Reverend Webb, Cramp, Robinson, Patstone, Alexander, Murphy, Harkness, James, Adams, McQueen, Wade, Nainby, Elkin, Peake, Smith, Beairsto, Daughtry, Shell, Hosking, Storheim, Exham, Myles, Irving, Turnball, Way, Doreen Sturla-Scott and Joyce D. Mellor. The current Pastor is Bryan Melbourne.

Like many rural parishes, St. Mary’s has had its up and downs over the years, but always seems to rebound through prayers and patience. Credit for success must always be attributed to the splendid co-operation, dedication, and strong faith among all of the parishioners, the Priests, and Vestry, and the ongoing support of the Men and Women’s and Youth groups, from the Bible Study groups, and of course from the community and surrounding districts of Ponoka. Together everyone at the English Church have weathered many storms, but have also enjoyed and praised the resultant rainbows of their efforts that God has promised them for more than 100 years.