The country church at the Sunnybrook Farm Museum was officially opened this week to the sound of a choir and visits from its former pastor and congregation.
About 75 people packed into the Willowdale Zion Presbyterian Church on Thursday — the biggest crowd since the church was closed and the building sold at its original location, about 10 km southeast of the city in 2010.
Among the special guests at the renovated church’s re-opening at its new site at Sunnybrook Farm was Richard Duffin, its pastor from 1965 to 1972. Several Red Deer city councillors were also in attendance, along with Willowdale residents and museum volunteers.
The Red Deer Chamber Singers tested out the church’s acoustics by launching into Locus Iste, a sacred piece by Anton Bruckner, which was composed in 1869 for the dedication of an Austrian cathedral.
After performing with the choir, Sunnybrook Farm’s executive-director Ian Warwick expressed his pleasure at seeing previous members of the church’s Willowdale congregation.
Attendees from southeast of Red Deer were clearly thrilled their rural church is being saved for posterity at the museum that also features an old school house, farm homes and barns. Several Willowdale families even donated funds to create new stained glass windows for their former church.
The building at Sunnybrook retains six original colourful windows that depict flowers and Central Alberta landscapes. Warwick said the church is getting four new stained-glass windows, designed in Calgary and created by Innisfail company Windows of the West.
This church was built in 1950 to replace a previous Willowdale church from 1905. After it was de-consecrated 13 years ago, due to a dwindling congregation, the church building was used as a martial arts studio by new owners for about a decade — until they needed to expand their home and had to either move or demolish the structure.
Warwick, who received a $250,000 from a donor for a church to be added to the museum’s display of rural life, checked out several possibilities — including an older and larger church in Bashaw.
When cost and ease of relocation were considered, the best candidate was the Willowdale church. Warwick said the entire relocation/renovation project, which required a hired contract and volunteer labour, came in at $457,000.
In its new location next to the old Calder school house, the Willowdale Zion Presbyterian Church “looks like it has always been there,” Warwick added.
The building retains an original pulpit and communion table and its original ornate Bible from 1905 is in a display cabinet.
Although the church will not be used for regular religious services, Warwick said it can be rented for special occasions, including weddings. There’s a large reception hall also available in the next-door school house.
The next project at the Sunnybrook Farm will be creating a wall of stored bricks from the original Bower family farmhouse, which was demolished in the 1940s, said the museum’s president Robin Larsen. When funds are available, a farming interpretive centre could be built on the southwest corner of the property.