Great Bend Church celebrates 110 years

Old friends Pearl Ritz and Betty Whittemore reconnect during the Great Bend Church of Christ 110 year celebration on Sun. Nov. 11. ECA Review/Fenceline Photography by Amanda Jasman
Written by Submitted

Old friends Pearl Ritz and Betty Whittemore reconnect during the Great Bend Church of Christ 110 year celebration on Sun. Nov. 11. ECA Review/Fenceline Photography by Amanda Jasman

Friends from afar and neighbours from next door turned out to celebrate 110 years of community, history and commitment to being a shining light for Jesus at the Great Bend Church of Christ located 13 minutes northeast of Delburne on Sun. Nov. 11.

More than 137 individuals joined in the celebration including four former ministers who each once lived in the parsonage, plus five community members and retired ministers who once and still fill in to bring the word of God and the teachings of Jesus to the pulpit.

Harvey Gamble emceed the event with humour on his sleeve and a presence that gently commanded attention.

Music was organised and led by the ‘Bonham Girls Trio’ – sisters Candy, May, and Penny and Lynda Lougheed played the piano.

Several guests and past speakers shared personal memories while others shared excerpts from a brief history written by lifelong congregant Verna Allison.

Among them was Monelle Fraser, daughter of former minister Ralph Whitrow, shared a letter written by her mother for the occasion.

She wrote about moving into the parsonage as a family of five, which at the time felt cozy as it was originally built for one.

After the parsonage was extended by about half, it felt more like a mansion to her.

Danielle Oke, a descendant of one of the Churches founding charter members, sang ‘Blessings’.

Lance Penny, who came to the church in 1995 and ministered for 12 years, shared a short message and also memories of elders Ernie McGowan and Lloyd Harris.

Ernie and Lloyd were known for their commitment to God and for praying fervently for those in need of healing and hope within our community.

Open mic time lasted for about 20 minutes and so many great stories were shared.

Past members who grew up in the church as children remembered Helen Combest who was wonderful to visit with and was always generous with packs of lifesavers, usually butterscotch flavour.

Ernie McGowan was also known for having cardigan pockets full of candy.

Stewart Oke showed off the little church piggy bank that kids would donate pennies to on their birthdays as the congregation would sing happy birthday to them.

Discussion about the bank put the age of that little plastic church at 70 or more years old.

When Lance was minister, he introduced the candy bag as a birthday perk as well.

Philip Massier presented a plaque on behalf of Red Deer County to the church in recognition and celebration of our 110 years of history.

Cake and coffee were served in the church basement where attendees continued to visit and reminisce about the church’s past.

The cake was first cut by Myrtle Jeffrey, who celebrated her 100th birthday earlier this year and has been a member of the congregation for all these years.

Historic photographs graced the walls of the basement for all to enjoy.

by Susan Maki


The Great Bend Church of Christ is one of the oldest continuously existing Christian churches in Alberta.

Mr. and Mrs. Robert Simpson began with a Sunday school, then in 1908 Mr. Woolner came from Ontario and held meetings which led to the establishment of the church on Nov. 11, 1908.

In 1943, the meeting place in Ardley burned down, so Church was held at the Great Bend School.

In 1949, Harold Jestin donated this land as a site to build the church, a more central location for our membership.

A great deal of donated labour erected a building, and on Easter Sunday, April 9, 1950, the first church service was held in it.

A teacherage was purchased and moved to be used for the parsonage.

When the Christian Church in Erskine was torn down, much of its material was used to enlarge the parsonage when Ralph Whitrow was the minister.

Another addition to the parsonage was completed in 1995.

In 2002, work on this new church building began, with the first worship service being held in 2003.

Robert Simpson and Luther Doughty served as ministers until 1942, donating their time.

In 1942, the church called Frank Rempel, a student at Alberta Bible College, who then served the church on weekends.

Since that time, a number of men have served, including Owen Still Jr., who helped the elders draw up a constitution for our church while he was here.

Many students and instructors from Alberta Bible College followed, to name a few: Roscoe Hollister, Norman Wells, Neil Burt, Harold Murray and Douglas Barrie.

We had several ministers who worked here full time and also worked at other jobs to augment their income — Alfred Scott, Ralph Whitrow, Ken Ferguson, Dick Scruggs, Jim Philips, Keith Shields, Lance Penny, and the last full-time minister was Scott Janzen.

Following him, it was decided to continue our weekly services with the help of many dedicated retired ministers from the surrounding areas.

In the early life of the church, Percy Simpson and Roy Johnston went to the States to attend Bible colleges and served churches in Canada and the States.

We have had several young people attend Bible College – Ernest McGowan, Laurel and Jeanette Randall, Lynda and Arlyne McGowan, Penny Bonham and René Harris.

These people have gone on to serve in the various churches where they chose to live and worship.

Marjorie McGowan served in the mission field in Colombia.

Keith Shields grew up in the church, went to Bible College, has been serving God in full-time ministry for several years, and is currently a member of the pastoral staff at Bow Valley Christian Church in Calgary.

The milestone of 110 years has required a dedicated membership serving as trustees, elders, deacons, deaconess, secretary treasurer, music providers, Sunday school teachers and choir directors.

A number of the descendants of the charter members – Bob and Mary Simpson, Luther and Dora Doughty, Sarah Smithman and Nellie Jestin – have been and continue to be involved in the work of the church.

We must also make mention of Mae Allison who taught Young People’s class, had a Junior Choir and kept the church focused on Missions.

Some of us here today will have received cookies from ‘Gramma Allison’ while away from the area. What a special memory that is. There are many others that have been active members of this congregation over the years.

Each participant has left their very own “unique mark” in the life of our church.

by Verna Allison

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