Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Book on Elim Chapel brings together denominations

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Chances are good if the president of Reliance Grain was still alive he would find ways to bring together an Anglican priest and a non-denominational pastor who both work in the city's downtown.

That's because Winnipeg multimillionaire businessman Sidney T. Smith, founder of the century-old Elim Chapel, didn't worry about little differences like denominational alliances or affiliations when it came to working for the mission of God, says the author of his new biography.

"He would have just understood that the various church traditions are an attempt to respond to God's grace," explains Rev. Jamie Howison, priest at St. Benedict's Table, which meets Sunday nights at All Saints Anglican Church.

"That was self-evident to him. But in his day it wasn't self-evident to most people."

A great-grandson to Smith, Howison grew up hearing stories of the larger-than-life Smith, who died in 1947, a visionary but determined man who combined his entrepreneurial spirit with a love of studying and preaching the Christian gospel.

Those stories, relayed by his mother, led the former member of the Anglican Primate's Theological Commission to research his theological past, resulting in the publication of a slim biography titled Not a Typical or Uncontroversial Fundamentalist: Sidney T. Smith and the Story of Elim Chapel.

Initially self-published with a modest run of 75 copies, the book is being reprinted by the American publisher Whitecaps Media, precisely because Smith's influence extended well beyond Winnipeg, says Howison, 49, a first-generation Anglican whose parents left Elim Chapel when he was a youngster.

Well-established in Winnipeg's business community in the first half of the 20th century as a director of numerous companies and a member of the Winnipeg Grain Exchange, Smith was also a lay preacher and Bible teacher who travelled across North America. He was a trustee of Moody Bible Institute in Chicago, on the board of Dallas Theological Seminary, president of the World's Christian Fundamentalist Association, and president of the Canadian Bible Society.

"Not only did he run this massive business, he gave three months a year to travelling and preaching across North America," says Howison.

"I don't know if he ever slept. Yet my mother would say he would always have time for people."

Making time for people included teaching Bible classes at the Ellice Avenue Mission he co-founded in 1910 with John Bellingham, and later becoming the benefactor to and chief executive officer at Elim Chapel, the new name for the mission when it moved to the building of what is now the West End Cultural Centre. In 1927, the wealthy Smith purchased the former St. Stephen's Presbyterian Church on Portage Avenue to accommodate the growing congregation at Elim Chapel.

Smith employed his business acumen to run the church, says Howison, an unconventional model even now and certainly in its time.

But that freedom to disregard conventions of the day is also admirable, says the current pastor of Elim Chapel, which now has paid staff of five and a more democratic structure.

"(Smith was) a man who was not afraid to go after missions. He wasn't afraid of typical church structures," says Rev. Jim Peterson. "He's a bit of a maverick. I love that about him."

Despite their differences theologically, Howison says researching and writing the book about his great-grandfather uncovered many points of contact.

"I'm a church planter within a community that grew out of a need to do something with people who have fallen through the cracks," says Howison, the founding priest of the alternative Winnipeg Anglican congregation which draws people from across the denominational spectrum.

"For all of the differences, it was fascinating to see the points of convergence."

For the 42-year-old Peterson, a Colorado native who has lived in Winnipeg for the last three years, reading about Smith gives him a better sense of the passion for mission in the early days of Elim Chapel.

"He's not swept up in labels. He's concerned about the mission of God. I think we still own that vision," Peterson says about his congregation of 250.

And that mission of God might include bringing together an Anglican priest and an evangelical minister who work in the same West Broadway neighbourhood, if only for a picture and a newspaper story.

Elim Chapel celebrates 100 years Oct. 15 to 17 with a banquet and worship service. Check out www.elimchapel.mb.ca or call 786-7477 for more information.

brenda@suderman.com

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition September 25, 2010 H13

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