There are some definite parallels between the early history of the Okotoks Evangelical Free Church and those of the past few years.
In the summer of 1932, the people who had a desire to see a church planted in the town of Okotoks had no place to meet. In fact, caring for the needs of those looking for work in a growing town led them to set up a tent in the front yard of the Jacobsen's home. They held church services under the tent on Sundays and fed those who were in the area looking for work during the week.
A few months later they were able to rent a building known as "The Old Orange Hall", which provided much-needed walls for the approaching winter. Then, before the winter was out, they were able to purchase a local Baptist church that had been sitting empty for a few years. It took a number of years to do all the needed repairs, but it served them well for more than half a century. When they moved in, it was more than thirty years old and was known as the Okotoks Gospel Chapel. Later, in the mid-sixties, the church joined the Evangelical Free Church.
In 1993, the congregation decided to go to two Sunday services which had been done a number of times in its history. This was a natural decision given the desire to build a new facility for worship. The problem was finding land to build on!
In '93 the congregation made a bid on land in Crystalaire but the deal fell through at the last minute. Then we pursued a deal on a piece of property in the Westridge subdivision that failed to materialize when the developer went into receivership. The next piece of property was a pie-shaped parcel of land that the town owned. The problem became the public hearings on the re-zoning requirement. The motion to rezone was defeated due to God's sovereign timing. That piece of property would have only allowed the construction of a 450-seat auditorium.
Finally, we returned to the Westridge property which had been purchased by Prominence Realty. The deal on the new land was sewn up in a matter of months. The property was perfect for what God had in store for us. What amazing timing God has!
While the Expansion Committee looked for a piece of property to build on, the congregation itself began a rather nomadic journey. After worshipping in two Sunday services for a year, the congregation decided to try meeting in the Okotoks Junior High gym. Storage boxes were built. Curtains were sewn and a system for hanging them developed to make the room feel a little more like home. In truth, it began to look like we had a good start on erecting the ancient Jewish Tabernacle! This meeting place came to an end when the summer rolled around and the school needed to do some extensive renovations. We had less than a month to find another place to meet.
Across the street from the old church sat the vacant Thriftway grocery store (where the current post office is now). After making a deal to rent the facility for $400 per month with only two weeks notice before eviction, the cleaning crews moved in. It took 25 people two full days to clean up the mess and make the place habitable. God bless the willing servants in this church!
Exactly one year later the owners thought they had a deal to sell the building and we were given a month to find new lodgings. By this time we had outgrown any possibility of moving back into the old church building (which we had been using for Sunday School classrooms). If it had not been for the gracious help of Grace Lutheran Church and Christ The Redeemer Catholic School Division, we would have been meeting in tents that summer. We soon began meeting in the Good Shepherd Elementary School gym and enjoyed the considerate care of the Catholic School Division until the completion of our current building on Westland Road. We thank God for the way they went above and beyond the call of duty to minister to us.
Recently, as a church we have rediscovered the joy that church is about community, not buildings or programs, but people. This plays itself out in how we view Christ-followers living in community and our emphasis on small groups. But it also challenges us as we look at the community of Okotoks and regularly ask ourselves how we can be involved in the world around us.
The 2013 floods of Southern Alberta is just one example of God moving us out of our comfort zones and into the lives of people.
It is not hard to see who has been in charge of the growth and development of the Okotoks Evangelical Free Church! It is God who has proven Himself faithful. Thanks be to God for His patience with us, for the forgiveness we receive from Jesus Christ, for our impatience with circumstances and with one another, for His timing in leading us, and for the wonderful guidance He gives through His Spirit. As a church, we will continue to set our heart's desire on being all that God wants us to be, doing all that Jesus calls us to do, by being obedient to His Word and the guidance of His Spirit.