At a time when many churches are struggling to attract members, a country church is so packed it’s looking at expanding.
“The warmth of the congregation, the substance of the service, and the teachings, those are the key elements,” said Pastor Ross Helgeton about the overflowing Evangelical Free Church of Erskine.
“The thing I’m discovering is, the churches that are growing are those that are really holding forth the Bible and Christ as the answer.
“We have people who come from as far away as Forestburg, south of Big Valley, Alix, and the Lake, some from up near Mirror. A lot of church draw is from other places in the county and many from Stettler, and some from Erskine. The minority are from Erskine, it would appear.”
The church board first looked at expansion in 2008, when growth began.
“Our sanctuary holds packed, a little around 200 people, and it feels full long before the 200 mark,” said Pastor Helgeton.
“We considered having two services, but that’s awkward for our size. We are exploring building new — that is expensive.”
So church members approached the County of Stettler last month for the title to its back alley to add on and make room to accommodate 350 to 400 parishioners.
The Erskine church started 60 years ago with its roots in the Ewing district, said Pastor Helgeton.
In 1927, John Ewing and Benjamin Foxall started to have Sunday School in a schoolhouse every Sunday. That group joined Stettler’s Presbyterian Church, which had a hard time providing a minister in the 1930s, so the congregation asked the president of the Prairie Bible Institute to conduct services.
“The first (official) day was Dec. 7, 1930,” he said.
In 1957, after a year and a half of proceedings before a judge, the church won its tax appeal with the County of Stettler for tax-exempt status.
Also in that year, the Women’s Missionary Society started.
In 1961, the church changed its name from The People’s Gospel Fellowship to Evangelical Free Church of Erskine, and the next year it recorded 23 members.
In 1980, the Erskine Church, along with the Lacombe Evangelical Free Church, helped start a church in Alix.
“We are definitely evangelical in flavour, we are conservative in doctrine, we are fairly contemporary how we do our worship, and our music is modern,” said Pastor Helgeton about the church’s style. “We are on the contemporary edge.”
“We are unique that we are not in town. We are out of town. I suppose it’s interesting many drive out instead of staying in (town).”