Small towns around Saskatoon affected by boom
With Saskatoon predicted to double in size by 2020 due to the development of oil fields and mines, small towns like Blaine Lake 80 km away are heading for a change.
“With the boom, the atmosphere is different,” says Gerry Epp, who’s pastored Blaine Lake’s Gospel Chapel for the last 24 years. He and his wife Eleanor have been a constant presence in the town of mostly Russian and Ukrainian nationality.
“There are no houses and no lots left to buy in these communities,” says Vivian Nemish, a reporter who covers Hague, Hepburn, Osler, and Waldheim areas for Valley News. While husbands often fly off to diamond, uranium, or gold mines for weeks at a time, children and mothers are left with the comfort of quiet homes.
Gerry and Eleanor, almost at marathon numbers in their ministry, say their work of building relationships is slowly producing fruit. “When we first came we had an attendance of maybe 14. I’d say it took 12 years for the people to start trusting us here.”
Now with an average of 60 to 70 in attendance, Blaine Lake Gospel Chapel is building a fellowship hall with kitchen and a large room for youth in the new basement.
“Last summer, we had 40 children from our community in our VBS. And the new facility gave us lots of room to accommodate the different stations.” says Epp. For some children it’s the only English speaking church program available.
“The building project is vital to the community,” says Nemish, who attends a Ukrainian Catholic Church. “The Mennonites are the ones that are expanding.”
As the only evangelical church in the neighbourhood, part of the trust comes from the fact that both Gerry and Eleanor work at jobs outside the church as well: Gerry with developmentally disabled people in Waldheim and Eleanor teaching piano. “I always say to my kids – ‘that’s where you go if you need help,’” says Nemish, of the Epps.
The community-oriented Gospel Chapel has a strong sense of fellowship, and you can find 30 people after the service still visiting or sharing a potluck. Conference minister Ralph Gliege calls the church “one cell group.”
Lately, they’ve been holding a successful gourmet dinner series as a fundraiser for the expansion, as well as selling cookbooks. They also have special events in their church open to the community like a Valentine’s supper, Mother’s Day brunch, men’s breakfasts, and Christmas hampers, to name a few.
With the new influx of families, Blaine Lake is not the only one to see a resurgence of interest in church. Nemish says attitudes are changing. “People are finding it an important part of their life now.”