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This article was published 9/1/2011 (3942 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
INSTEAD of attending her own church Sunday morning, Morgan Kiss took a seat in the stands at the MTS Centre to cheer, sing and pray alongside thousands of other Winnipeggers.
"We're here to worship God with other people we don't normally worship with," said Kiss, while waiting in the lineup at the Tim Hortons kiosk with her five-year-old daughter, Mirella, before the 11 a.m. service.
Fifty-one Winnipeg churches, representing Anglican, Baptist, Mennonite, Presbyterian and Pentecostal denominations, as well as various evangelical groups, closed their doors Sunday morning, encouraging their members to attend the worship service at the downtown hockey arena instead.
"We had an 8:30 a.m. service and our main service is closed," explained Rev. Ken Turnbull of St. Aidan's Anglican Church from his seat in the arena. "I think it's very important to do things together and to gather together for worship."
"One thing I really like about this is a lot of Christians coming together and standing up and being counted as Christian and not hiding that," said Cathie Chapman, who skipped services at her own church, which didn't officially participate in the service.
After Saturday night's Manitoba Moose hockey game, dozens of volunteers moved in sound and light equipment to transform the hockey rink overnight into a worship space by building a stage at the south end and hanging a huge wooden cross at centre ice. The event cost $42,000 in rental and set-up fees, covered by donations from the participating churches. No collection was taken during the service.
This mass service is the second organized by the Christian group One Heart Winnipeg, which also meets monthly at Church of the Rock to pray for the city's leaders. It was intended to bring together Christians to pray for Winnipeg at the beginning of the year, Rev. Ron MacLean told the crowd of 12,800 which filled both decks of the MTS Centre.
"Hello churches of Winnipeg," said MacLean, pastor of Gateway Christian Community. "We're saying yes to preaching the good news in our city."
Accompanied by applause and cheers, children opened the morning with a parade of placards bearing the names of the 51 churches.
The two-hour service also included songs led by a 16-piece band, a children's puppet play and a communion service in which creamer-sized portions of grape juice topped with tiny wafers encased in plastic were distributed by the 275 volunteer ushers, dressed in white shirts and black pants.
Speaker Brian Stiller challenged the crowd to share their faith through large and small acts of giving to others and said Winnipeg Christians are setting an example for the faithful everywhere.
"I know of no city in the world... in which you have a common type of event and where the Sunday services are set aside and people gather," said the former president of Toronto's Tyndale College and Seminary.
Stiller, a Saskatchewan native, is about to launch the Wilberforce Institute, a virtual think-tank intended to provide a Christian perspective on contemporary issues, named after the 19th-century British anti-slavery crusader.
"I think it went really well," said organizer Ruth Wall. "I don't know what we're going to do (next year). We might have to go to two services."
Brenda Suderman has been a columnist in the Saturday paper since 2000, first writing about family entertainment, and about faith and religion since 2006.