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PINAWA — They sing from the United Church hymnbook, practise communion according to Anglican traditions, organize themselves according to Mennonite sensibilities and are served by a Presbyterian minister.
For half a century, the folks at Pinawa Christian Fellowship — PCF for short — have been happily multidenominational, and they have no plans to change their ecumenical ways.
"It works this way because we've done it for 50 years," says retired scientist Roger Dutton, an Anglican member of PCF for 45 years.
"We wanted it to work. I think people aren't as hidebound now about what their denomination does," adds Marion Stewart, a United Church member at PCF since 1963.
The congregation celebrates its 50th anniversary with a joint worship service 10 a.m., Sunday, July 21 in the gym of F. W. Gilbert Elementary School, the worship place of the congregation since 1963.
Conceived by Atomic Energy of Canada Limited employees in Deep River before the Whiteshell Laboratories near Pinawa opened in 1963, the church was always intended to accommodate multiple denominations, says church convenor Chuck Vandergraaf, a retired AECL scientist of Presbyterian stock. He says the idea was to have one church for the Roman Catholics, and one for all the others, so people who worked together would worship together.
"It was always understood if this town would continue to grow to 5,000 people, each denomination would split off because we would have enough critical mass," he explains.
With only 1,500 residents in Pinawa, that split won't happen any time soon for the congregation that's officially affiliated with the Anglicans, Presbyterians, United Church, and Mennonite Church Manitoba. The town is also home to Lutheran and Alliance churches.
As one church represented by many denominations — adherents also come from Lutheran, Baptist, Greek Orthodox, Roman Catholic, and Daoist backgrounds — PCF could be a model for other communities with declining church membership.
Although the congregation owns property in this scenic community along the Winnipeg River about 110 kilometres northeast of Winnipeg, and went as far as drawing up blueprints, they're committed to not owning a dedicated church building, preferring to rent office space for their minister, Rev. Robert Murray, and transforming the school gym into a worship space each week.
"The backdrops are rolled down from the ceiling, the pulpit is wheeled in, the font is wheeled in, the stalls are wheeled in," Dutton said about the regular Sunday morning preparations.
"The school is very adaptable and works with us in this."
Structures and practices are worked out by a general committee, which has representatives from each denomination. Baptisms are administered according to denominational practices but worship is unique to PCF. The group takes communion following the Anglican tradition, sings from the United Church hymnal, and follows the lectionary reading for each Sunday.
"There's a breadth in the diversity. There's a wideness in understanding. We learn from each other," explains Ken Reddig, one of three Mennonites in the 150 member congregation.
Christians across Canada could learn from this made-in-Pinawa model of ecumenical co-operation, suggests the general secretary of the Canadian Council of Churches, which represents all the denominations officially part of PCF.
"I think it is pretty unique and a great witness to unity in diversity," says Rev. Karen Hamilton.
Brenda Suderman has been a columnist in the Saturday paper since 2000, first writing about family entertainment, and about faith and religion since 2006.
The Free Press acknowledges the financial support it receives from members of the city’s faith community, which makes our coverage of religion possible.
Updated on Saturday, July 20, 2013 at 10:09 AM CDT: Added photo