As the model town of Devon sprang from the mud in 1948, St. Stephen’s College, University of Alberta canvassed the town to see if there was interest in establishing a church in Devon. To their surprise, they discovered that a Sunday School was already started and people were meeting in homes for Sunday services. So student ministers started to come out regularly from Edmonton.Blake Pritchard was the summer student in 1949. He lived in a bunkhouse room and ate at various homes of church people.
The first communion and baptism service of the Devon United Church was held on September 11, 1949 with Rev. Dr. D.J.C. Elson and Rev. C.B. Hickman officiating. Twenty people were baptized during that first service.
On September 15, 1949, the women of the church met in the home of Mrs. Edith Henderson to form the Woman’s Association. Mrs. Henderson was the first president, Mrs. Agnes Burt, vice-president, Mrs. J. B. Wilson, secretary and Mrs. R. Pittman, treasurer. Raising funds to help finance
a new building and support a minister’s salary were the first concerns.
Many chicken suppers were held with great success. Spring and Fall Teas and Bazaars with home baking and crafts were offered for sale. As there was no manse, the Woman’s Association was responsible for finding lodging and boarding for the student ministers. In 1953, the Woman’s Association’s Annual Chicken Dinner became a Turkey dinner and they served 512 people!
1956, the W.A. purchased a pulpit and chair for the chancel. In addition to all of their help
at the church, the W.A. also helped in the community with T.B. clinics, sewing bees for the hospital, wherever there was need.
By 1951, after continuing to meet in various homes and buildings around town, they had a building to call their own, mostly built by volunteer labour. Then they planted potatoes! All around the church! As quaint as it sounds in 2009, it was common practice 60 years ago. And so it was that the pretty blue flowers growing around the Devon United Church were practical potato blossoms and not just frivolous flowers. The dedication service for that first building was held on September 9, 1951 , with 150 people present.
The choir was also founded in 1951, directed by Mrs. Lillian McLennan with Mrs. Anna Bray as pianist. The manse was completed in 1954 and furnished by the Woman’s Association, which
also took upon the task of getting it ready for each new family. The first ordained minister
was installed on July 1, 1954—Rev. Jack Wylie.
In 1960, our choir joined choirs from three other churches in town to present a cantata called “Our Living Lord” for both Devon and Calmar communities. September 1961, on the 10th Anniversary of the new building, the stewards were able to “burn the mortgage” - “We are reminded of the work and the generosity and no little work that has made this possible.”
In 1963, we recommended our first candidate to Christian ministry—Mr. John Hutton. That year’s congregational supper was a most enjoyable event with everyone playing a part to make it a success. Some 235 people attended and joined in carol singing afterwards.
The manse garage was destroyed by fire in 1964 but was quickly rebuilt by the men of the congregation. A new entrance to the church was built in 1966. And in 1967, Canada’s
Centennial Year was observed with an interdenominational church service. Also in 1967, discussions and studies about the proposed union with the Anglican Church revealed how very similar our two churches were— at least at the local congregational level.
In 1962, the Woman’s Association and the Women’s Missionary Society amalgamated to form the United Church Women. Our W.A. became the U.C.W. Tea and bake sales were still held but the donation of ‘talent money’ took the place of bazaars. Rummage sales began in the spring and fall seasons. One minister’s wife suggested that we might make quilts out of the good material from the clothing that was not sold at the rummage sales. Many quilts were made for the needy served by the Bissell Centre in Edmonton and some quilts were sold. Visiting those in hospital, sending get-well & sympathy cards and trying to meet newcomers to the church has been another part
of our mission.
The first Thrift Shop opened in 1974 on Wednesdays, as there seemed to be a need for it. It also helped to alleviate the over flow from the rummage sales which continued to be held yearly until 1982.
The Men’s Supper started in the 1978, creating a true feeling of fellowship as well as a lighty fine dinner, enjoyed by some 300 people. From humble beginnings in the church basement, it eventually became the Annual Fall Turkey Supper in support of the Building Fund. It continues to be one of our biggest fundraisers each year.
The 1970’s were a bit chaotic with new ministers just about every year, but throughout it all the work of the church continued. In 1974, the church celebrated its 25th Anniversary, on the same weekend that the Town of Devon celebrated its 25th Anniversary. Twenty-five members and past members of the choir sang at the Anniversary Service.
In 1979, with the arrival of Rev. David Wasyk and his wife Nancy, there was renewed vitality. When David brought out his big brown bag during the children’s time and asked “What do you think I have in my bag to this morning? Everyone, young and old responded on cue— ”LUNCH!”.
In 1981 we sponsored a refugee family from Vietnam, through the challenges of new surroundings and new language.
In 1985, the Wasyks donated a 3-octave handbell set in memory of David’s father. Three years later, Phyllis Shanks and her family donated a 3-octave chime-bar set in memory of her husband Larry. Also in 1985, a “New Building” Committee was formed to develop strategies and build a funding base for new construction sometime in the future.
1988….General Council made the decision that the criteria for admission to the order of ministry in the United Church of Canada would remain unchanged and that sexual orientation is not a barrier to admission. It was a huge moment in the history of the church whether you agreed or disagreed. And the work of the church continued...
We celebrated our 40th Anniversary in 1989.
No account of our history would be complete without acknowledging the ministry of Rev. Dr. Roy Neehall. Rev. Neehall came to us in the summer of 1986. In the ten years that he served with Devon United, he brought many gifts that he gladly shared with us over those years. It is said that a minister cannot also be a friend, but we would all agree that Roy made each person he met, both within and outside the church, feel like a special friend. He is remembered with fondness and loving memories by all who knew him. He passed from our lives on August 3, 1996.
The Bethel Bible Series started in 1989 and by 1991 thirteen teachers had been trained. More than 50 people committed two years in the pursuit of bible literacy.
The Building Fund continued its slow and steady growth with Fall Vegetable Sales, Honey Sales, and the Annual Turkey Supper.
The flowers continued to be carefully tended by Mary Wagar.
Two members of the congregation declared their intention to pursue ministerial training— Phyllis Greenslade was approved for Lay Pastoral ministry in Training in 1993; and David Stewart, having studied for ministry since 1991 declared his intention to become a candidate for ministry and was approved as an “inquirer” in 1994 (the first step in the process towards ordination).
A prayer group began in 1992, with an average attendance of 8 people—”there [was] no agenda … most nights we spent nearly an hour in prayer, taking turns at random and often praying silently”.
A re-structuring of the board and committees was undertaken over several years to better utilized volunteer time and talents.
With the untimely death of Rev. Neehall in 1996, there were a few years of uncertainty, but the work of the church continued.
In our sixth decade, preparations began in 2000 to attract a new minister. A major renovation of the church starting with the minister’s office and as Bev Matthews says, “It just looked so good, we kept on going…”
A Healing Touch Ministry began in 2001 led by Bob Scammell and Sherry Dahl.
The new ‘Voices United” hymn book was introduced and regular newsletters were sent out to keep in touch.
Spirit Connection Lunches began in 2001 to enjoy fellowship and discussion of this United Church of Canada program. Also that year, Leila Currie completed her discernment process as a candidate for ministry.
In 2003, the Extreme Team Youth Group held their Annual 30-hour Famine and raised $1000 for the AIDS Beads of Hope Campaign.
In 2004, we developed a new mission statement— “We are a welcoming Christian family committed to nurturing love, care and service to all individuals, families, community and beyond.”
A labyrinth was created on the church grounds at both Devon and Calmar in 2005, thanks to the efforts of John Twach and Sharon Ehnes.
In 2006, Bev Matthews and her team took the Thrift Shop on the road and set up a monthly in-house shopping experience at Discovery Place for the seniors in residence.
In 2009, we welcomed Shannon Huhtala as our first Youth and Young Adult Minister.
We have enjoyed a long standing relationship with Calmar United Church, sharing ministers in a 2-
point pastoral charge since 1956. In 2007 we welcomed many members from Calmar into Devon United Church, after they made the difficult decision to disband. Calmar United Church was most racious in their gifts of money, furnishings, and banners to both Beaumont and Devon United churches. Devon is blessed by the blending of their wisdom and history with ours and continues to enjoy the presence of these faithful people.
In 2000 a Silent Auction was added, in 2005 a Cookie Walk and Jewelry Table. The Annual Fall Turkey Supper and Silent/Live Auction has become a main event of our church year. Tickets sell like wildfire and are usually sold out in a matter of weeks. In 2008 we fed almost 400 people and raised over $12,000. It’s a lot of work, a whole lot of volunteers, but a lot of fun too, getting to know people, meeting new friends, reaching out to the community. (oh, and the food is simply fantastic!)
On July 12, 2005, after working behind the scenes for several months, the “Building Funds Development Committee” announced the launch of the “Building for the Future “ Campaign.
Eric van Meurs (vicepresident of new facility development at the YMCA) led the committee through a process of re-discovering our connections to our faith family, because it’s not about the walls … it was never about the walls. A campaign target of $750,000 was set and the committee announced that we were more than half way there, having already raised over $433,000.
A year later, in June 2006, almost 55 years to the day, we said good-bye to our old building. And having raised over $1 million dollars, we began building a new mortgagefree building. On December 16, 2007, we held our first service in our new building, with its stunning post and beam interior.
We’ve changed some, and the world around us is changing but our Sunday worship, Bible study, Sunday school and youth activities... these continue. As well as weddings, baptisms, confirmations, Bissell luncheons, pastoral care, outreach and fellowship.
And the UCW continues to operate the Thrift Shop (three days a week since 2006), supporting our church and distributing material goods and financial assistance to charities, locally and world-wide. They host Spring and Fall Luncheons/Bake Sales, help with Meals-on-Wheels, and play an role in regional and provincial UCW activities.
New programs and events are evolving—Seder suppers, music concerts, choir exchanges, more youth activities, and contemporary worship services are being planned.
And as has been our custom, space is still rented to community and not-for-profit groups— A.A., Foot Clinic, Community Music Lessons, and Out of School Care. And we continue to live out our vision: Growing in Faith, Spirit, Stewardship and the Community, Through Living, Learning, Loving and Laughing.
When our elders founded the Devon United Church congregation in 1949, they could not have dreamed what it would look like in 60 years—they were recovering from World War II, there were no TV’s, no computers, no “iPhones”. But they faced challenges with faith, hope and hard work.
And had fun doing it...
Likewise in 2009, we cannot imagine where the church will be in another 60
years. But the one thing we do know is that God is with us, we are not alone. We are God’s faithful people. We too will face challenges, changes and opportunities with faith, hope and hard work. And we’ll have fun...
No, we didn’t plant potatoes around our new church but we look toward the future knowing we will continue to plant seeds of faith, fellowship and community involvement.