Parish History

History of the Mar Thoma Church

Edmonton, Alberta, Canada

 

Immigration  to Canada – The beginnings:  1965 – 1972

In late 60s and early 70s, Keralites came to Canada for educational purposes and for jobs. As the diaspora community continued to grow, the need to have traditional worship services and prayers in their own language became a priority. The people motivated by their faith  brought  their passion to the newly adopted land and wanted to build a sense of community and wanted to build a church. Mar Thoma Christians were following the path of Father Abraham who built altars for worship wherever he went. Early settlers faced a lot of challenges coping with the climate, culture, food, language, travel, and accommodation. Sheer determination, unfailing faith and the willingness to adapt to new environments made the transition to the chilling northern climate easier.

First Holy Communion Service in Edmonton – 1972

The first Holy Communion was celebrated on August, 1972 by Rev. Ipe Joseph, who was a visiting clergy from Kerala. Members from different denominations were excited and happy to welcome Reverend Joseph  and attend the Holy Communion and Worship Services. This was a very rare opportunity for the Malayalee immigrants, in this part of the world, to attend worship services in their own language.

Mar Thoma Prayer Group (1972 -1976)

Initially, many of the newcomers attended local church services and also got together for non­ denominational prayer meetings during the weekends in the basement of Rev. George Varghese, a clergy of the Holyrood Mennonite Church in Edmonton. Though the immigrants were all independent, the various personal and social needs forced them to be  interdependent  fairly quickly in their newly adopted land. In Edmonton, in early 70s, Kerala Mar Thoma Christians were very eager to have a prayer group in order to maintain their traditional values that they cherished from childhood. They collectively decided to have a local prayer group of their own. The idea was to create a common platform for the newcomers from Kerala and other parts of India. There was a common and higher purpose and the prayer group meetings created a sense of belonging in a new environment and culture. The beginning of a Mar Thoma Church in Edmonton started as prayer-sessions in different apartments. The seeds for a church were planted by the dedicated and purpose driven minds of the people who attended these prayer meetings – the humble beginnings of a Mar Thoma Church in the Northern region of Canada. The Edmonton prayer group members set a goal for what they are willing to do for the Lord, for their church and for the faith community with a strong vision for future generations. From Abraham ‘s time to this very day, God has always expected that His believing people would be a separated people. Love for God and obedience to Him have always meant scorn and contempt from the world. Our problems at that time were moral- Do we have the courage to stand up for what we know from our forefathers to be true and right? Can we bring ourselves to take up the cross with its blood and death and reproach? – The answer was, yes and the prayer group had a special commitment and unwavering faith in God. They started dreaming and building the invisible altar in their minds. The Mar Thoma families started their own prayer-group in 1974. At that time, about 15 families started meeting as a group in different apartments/homes in the last weekend of each month. By 1976 regular divine worship services started using Namaskarakramam on every second Sunday of the month.

Formation and approval of Congregation (1976 – 1984)

A majority of Malayalee families from different parts of Alberta eventually moved to Edmonton or Calgary. A few immigrants were attracted to the numerous job opportunities in the oil and gas industries in Fort McMurray and other northern locations.  In  September  1980, Rev.  George Jacob (now Rt. Rev. Dr. Geevarghese Mar Theodosius Episcopa) began his doctoral studies at McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario. He was appointed as the Vicar of the Mar Thoma Group in Alberta for a period from September 1980 to 1982. As the number of Mar Thoma families grew in Edmonton, the then Diocesan Bishop, the late Rt. Rev. Thomas Mar Athanasius, elevated the prayer group to a Mar Thoma Congregation in 1982. George  Jacob  Achen continued to be the Vicar of the newly elevated congregation till June 1984. His service was a great blessing for the church community in Edmonton, Calgary and Fort McMurray. Although Achen lived in Hamilton, he was the Vicar of all the congregations in Eastern and Western Canada. Achen ‘s dedication and hard work resulted in the establishment of several Mar Thoma churches across Canada.

Metropolitan’s and Episcopal Visits to Alberta

 

Bishop Year
The Rt. Rev. Thomas Mar Athanasius 1974, 1982, 1984
The Rt. Rev. Easow Mar Timotheos 1976
The Rt. Rev. Dr. Philipose Mar Chrysostom Suffragan Metropolitan 1978, 1979, 1989, 1990, 1991, 1992
The Rt. Rev. Geevarghese Mar Athanasius 1991
The Most Rev. Dr. Alexander Mar Thoma Metropolitan 1983,1987
The Rt. Rev. Dr. Joseph Mar Irenaeus 1992

 

Other Vicars and Timeline (1984 -1991)

In 1984, Rev. K.G. Pothen (now Very Rev. Dr. K.G. Pothen), Vicar, Mar Thoma Church of Los Angeles and a student at the time, was appointed Vicar of the Edmonton congregation. As Rev. Pothen was unable to make many trips to Edmonton due to Canadian visa issues, the late Rev. M.S. Varghese, Vicar of the Canadian Mar Thoma Church in Toronto became the new Vicar in August 1985. Achen visited twice a year, helping to maintain the existence and spiritual journey for the congregations in Edmonton, Calgary and Fort McMurray, until his transfer to India.

The role of Lay-Leaders

The lay leadership of the congregation in the initial years played a very vital role in establishing the church by providing spiritual nourishment through regular prayer meetings and worship services at the homes of its members .

Society Registration  and Canada Revenue Agency

In 1984, the congregation was registered under the ‘Religious Society’s Land Act’ in  the province of Alberta to gain recognition from the government. Canada Revenue Agency approved our application for ‘Charitable Organization Status’ effective January  1, 1988.

First Resident Vicar of Alberta (1987 -1993) and the Edmonton Church Building History After prolonged  dialogue  and  extensive feasibility  studies the congregation  decided  to have  a resident  priest  in  Alberta. During  the  visit  of His  Grace,  the  Most  Rev.  Dr.  Alexander  Mar Thoma Metropolitan in summer of 1987, the members of the congregation expressed their desire to have a full-time priest for Alberta. The members came to the realization that they could support an Achen, if he could also serve Calgary and Fort McMurray. Thirumeni agreed to consider the request. The need for a full-time priest was also due to the growth of our congregation. Eventually, in 1987, monthly Sunday worship services were held at St. George’s Anglican Church. Thirumeni graciously granted our request and Rev. Joseph  Jacob  (now Rt. Rev. Joseph Mar Barnabas Episcopa) was appointed as the new Vicar of the Alberta congregations, effective May 1, 1988. However, due to visa processing delays, Achen could take charge as the Vicar only in September 1989. Pastoral care during that time was provided by Rev. J. Joseph, Vicar of the Canadian Mar Thoma Church in Toronto. There were about sixty Mar Thoma families in Alberta when Achen arrived.

Achen lived in Edmonton and visited Fort McMurray once a month and Calgary once every two months. A full time resident achen resulted in a phenomenal  increase  in  church  activities. Sunday School, Choir, Junior and Senior Youth Groups, Sevika Sanghom, Edavaka Mission and Bible Study sessions were organized. This was indeed a blessing for all families and their young children.  Sunday worship  was held at the Asian  Christian Church, Downtown-Edmonton  from

8.00 AM to 11.00 AM. One of the biggest problems the congregation faced at this time was that they had to vacate the premises right after the service for members of Asian Christian Church to congregate for their service. A resident Vicar’s presence also led to door-to-door carol singing. Achen with the help of fellow vicars of the similar episcopal groups, organized and celebrated Edmonton Ecumenical Fellowship (common) Christmas programs.  The  Mar  Thoma congregation has always had close relationships and co-operation from sister churches like the Anglican, Orthodox, and Kananya churches. As Mar Thoma Church is in communion with the Church of South India (CSI) and Church of North India (CNI), we have always had support from them.  CSI Bishops have visited and celebrated Holy Eucharist.

Rev. Joseph Jacob (Josekutty Achen) was instrumental in hosting the Western Canada Family Conference (1990)  in Edmonton with the assistance of Calgary and Fort McMurray Parishes. That Family Conference was held in Edmonton from June 28 to Julyl, 1990. In those times, it was quite common for all members of the various Parishes in the region to congregate together in Edmonton, especially during the annual visit of the Diocesan Bishop.

The conference and various activities initiated by  Josekutty Achen led to greater  enthusiasm among  the  Mar  Thoma  members.  Achen  motivated  church  members   and  created  a  self-awareness of who they are and their purpose in this land? The congregation  with  limited potential realized that what individually one could not achieve, collectively they could. All these factors and the unfailing trust in the Creator guided them to start a fundraising program with an ultimate vision of having their own Mar Thoma Church in Edmonton .

The fundraising program had positive results. About 20,000 dollars was  collected  through various efforts viz. bake sale, coupon sales, garage sales in homes, and personal contribution/donation etc. At the same time, the General Body encouraged members to donate one thousand dollars per family towards the church building fund. In 1989, our Diocesan Bishop Chrysostom Thirumeni visited Edmonton and the Holy Communion service was held at St. George’s Anglican Church (11733-87 Ave) followed by a brunch at Greenwood Inn, Gateway Blvd. During that gathering two members promised to contribute ten thousand  dollars  each towards the church building fund. This was strong catalyst from members indicating their strong commitment for a Mar Thoma Church in Edmonton. Once the needs were identified and clear, the congregation decided to discuss the matter in a General Body meeting convened  at  St George’s Anglican Church. In that meeting a “Building Committee” was formed with a definite mission and members were elected. Although the building committee met many times in due course, there were issues that became cumbersome and complicated. As with any project, differences of opinion were voiced. On the resignation of 3 building committee members,  3 others were added to the committee. However, the mission and the ultimate goal of the Building Committee never changed and they worked relentlessly to fulfill the wishes of the congregation. Finally, the Building Committee found a facility that they thought the congregation could afford: the “Kingdom Hall of Jehovah’s Witnesses” in Capilano area. This facility had its pros and cons. Many of our members visited the building and had a mixed opinion. A General Body meeting duly summoned to discuss and make a decision to purchase the building did not lead to a clear support. A few liked the affordability and location of the property but the building lacked a basement. It was God’s plan that a member of our congregation suggested that the proposed facility is financially feasible and therefore he suggested that the congregation move ahead and purchase the property. General memberships were well pleased with this proposal and decided to negotiate and purchase the Kingdom Hall. The Royal Bank assured the congregation a mortgage of 100,000 dollars with personal guarantee of 10 members of the congregation. By the grace of God, on June 27, 1991, the long cherished dream of the Edmonton Marthomites of owning their own church building became a reality. The congregation continued the fundraising  efforts. Friends and well-wishers from all walks of life in North America contributed generously. CSI, Evangelical and Salvation Army families, who are now members of Trinity Mar Thoma Church, also participated in the church building efforts. As the building had no basement, Lupill House Movers were awarded the contract to raise the building about 8 feet in order to construct a full basement. The then Vicar Rev. Joseph Jacob (now Rt. Rev. Joseph Mar Barnabas Episcopa), the Building Coordinator and the then trustees worked very hard to complete the project on time and within the budget. Many of our members (adults, youths and children) worked physically in the cleanup, painting and other work. There was a competition among the Sunday School students for the Church name and the winner was Angela John, daughter of Mr. and Mrs. John P. John, who suggested the name TRINITY MAR THOMA  CHURCH, EDMONTON. On October 05, 1991, the Church building was consecrated by Rt. Rev. Dr. Euyakim Mar  Coorilos Episcopa. Thirumeni who named the Church “Trinity Mar Thoma Church”.

Under God’s plan unforeseen  circumstances lead to better opportunities

On January 03, 1992, the interior of the newly consecrated church (except the Madubaha) was destroyed in a fire. Congregation and friends were heart-broken but the strong will and deep­ rooted faith prevailed. Rev. Joseph Jacob’s unwavering faith, strong leadership and dedication were instrumental to bring the congregation together during this difficult time. Achen, the young families their children and youths were determined to rebuild the Church. The  events  were reported in the local newspapers. The insurance claims were processed quickly and the church was completely rebuilt. Some of the young engineers of the congregation were involved in architectural design changes and other timely help. During the reconstruction period Rev. Dan Ash of the nearby Anglican Church was kind enough to offer us help to join in their Sunday services. However, Braemar Baptist Church in Capilano area invited us to conduct our Sunday Services and Sunday School at their Secondary Chapel. Services were held in the Baptist church for almost 7 months. Finally, on July 04, 1992, the new building was re-consecrated by our beloved the then Rt. Rev. Dr. Philipose Mar Chrysostom Suffragan Metropolitan. In 2016, as we celebrate the Silver Jubilee of our Church building we are thankful to God and all who directly or indirectly helped to make the Mar Thoma Church building a reality. In addition  to  the monetary contributions, almost all Sacramental Ornaments and furnishings in the sanctuary were donated by members. Under the capable leadership of Josekutty Achen, a small group of people with unwavering faith, determination and limited resources were able to achieve something that future generations could be proud of. As the psalmist says in 136: Let us with gladsome mind, praise the Lord, for HE is kind: For HIS mercies shall endure, ever faithful, ever sure.

Rev. Joseph Jacob left Edmonton in 1993, later he was elevated to Episcopa of the Mar Thoma Church and is currently the Rt. Rev. Joseph Mar Barnabas Episcopa. During his tenure as our vicar, he inspired us by saying that your Fathers’ church had arrived in Alberta. He taught us the fundamental beliefs and customs of the Mar Thoma Church. All the vicars that followed him strengthened the foundation that he laid for the congregation.

Visits of the Anglican, CSI and CNI Bishops:

The Anglican Diocese of Edmonton has always facilitated the visa application of resident vicars of Trinity Mar Thoma Church, Edmonton.  The Mar Thoma Church is grateful for the support and help that has been provided all these years.

The Rt. Rev. Ken L. Genge, Bishop of Anglican Church

The Rt. Rev. Michael John, Bishop of Church of South India

The Rt. Rev. Victoria Mathews, Arch Bishop of Anglican Church The Most Rev. J B Curtis, Arch Bishop of Anglican Church

The Rt. Rev. Dr. George Ninan, Bishop of Church of North India The Rt. Rev. Jane Alexander, Bishop of Anglican Church, Edmonton

The List of the Vicars of Trinity Mar Thoma Church, Ed monton (1989 to 2016)

1. Rev. Joseph Jacob (1989 – 1 993)

In addition to Edmonton church, achen had responsibilities for Calgary, Fort McMurray and Winnipeg  congregations.

2. Rev. Philip Easaw (1993 – 1 997)

Rev. Philip Easaw took charge in September  1993.  Achen’s dynamic and inspiring leadership and Kochamma’s active involvement in church activities played a major role in strengthening the church family. In addition to Edmonton church, Achen had responsibilities for Calgary, Fort McMurray, Winnipeg and Seattle congregations.

3. Rev. Lukose Varghese (May 1997 – 2001)

Rev. Lukose Varghese became the next Vicar in May 1997. Achen ‘s  empathetic  attitude, humility and missionary  zeal endeared him to the Malayalee community. In addition to Edmonton church, achen had responsibilities for Calgary, Fort McMurray and Winnipeg congregations.

Parsonage  Purchase in  1998

In 1998, under  Lukose achen ‘s leadership we were able to acquire a parsonage adjacent to the church property.

4. Rev. P. J. John (2001 – 2005)

Rev. P. J. John arrived in October 2001 to lead the parish. Substantial progress in all church related activities was visible; annual Sunday School camps and Yuvajana Sakyam were organized during Achen’ s tenure. In addition to Edmonton church, Achen had responsibilities for Calgary, Fort McMurray and Winnipeg congregations.

5. Rev. Thomas C. Oomman (2005 – 2009)

Rev. Thomas C. Oomman took over as Vicar in October 2005. Achen’s mature leadership and Kochamma’s active participation in the church activities were very  much  appreciated.  In addition to Edmonton church, achen had responsibilities for Calgary, Fort McMurray and Winnipeg  congregations.

6. Rev. Reji John (2009 – 2012)

Rev. Reji John became the Vicar in May 2009. Achen is the first full-time Vicar of our church even though he made occasional visits to Fort McMurray and Winnipeg. The growth in membership of the Calgary Parish led to, in May 2009 , a resident Achen in Calgary. In addition to Edmonton church, Achen had responsibilities for Fort McMurray  and  Winnipeg congregations.

XX.IX Mar Thoma Family  Conference of Diocese of the North America  and Europe

2011 was a memorable and remarkable year for the Church as we hosted the XXIX Mar Thoma Family Conference of the Diocese of North America and Europe. The conference was well organized and conducted by the Vicar, the Conference Committee and Church Leaders.

7.  Rev. Rajan Koshy (2012-2015)

Achen and Kochamma helped enhance the spiritual health of the parish and that was their major focus. In addition to Edmonton church, Achen had responsibilities for Fort McMurray and Winnipeg  congregations.

Western  Canada Joint Conferences:

In July 2013 and September 2015, joint conferences of Western Canada Region Sevika Sanghom and Edavaka Mission were hosted by Trinity Mar Thoma Church, Edmonton. These conferences were well organized and conducted by the Vicar and other Church Leaders.

8.  Rev. Anil Abraham (2015- 2018)

In addition to Edmonton church, Achen has responsibilities for Fort McMurray and Winnipeg congregations. Under the able leadership of Achen, Trinity  Mar  Thoma  Church,  Edmonton, hosted the Regional Family Conference of the Diocese of North America and Europe (Canada Region), in July, 2016. The conference was managed and executed well within our limited capabilities. October 29, 2016 marks the culmination of a year-long Silver Jubilee Celebration of the Trinity Mar Thoma Church Building. This will be another milestone in the historical journey of the Edmonton Mar Thoma Church and its people.

9.  Rev. Thomas Yesudasan (2018 – Present)

In addition to Edmonton church, Achen has responsibilities for Fort McMurray and Winnipeg congregations.

Edmonton Ecumenical  Fellowship

We as church are collaborating to work as an ecumenical group in Edmonton. The newly organized Edmonton Ecumenical Fellowship is actively promoting the need of ecumenism in Edmonton.

Conclusion:

Trinity Mar Thoma church, Edmonton, which started as a small prayer group with about fifteen families, almost forty-two years ago has at present one hundred and twenty-one families. Mar Thoma church has indeed become a global church. Trinity Mar Thoma  church,  under  the Diocese of North America and Europe, is proud to be the Northern most church of the Diocese. Over the years the clergy, the lay leaders, members and well-wishers have contributed immensely to the growth of the Parish. The community at large and our sister congregations in Fort McMurray and Calgary also played a vital role. We thank God Almighty for the blessings that He has showered upon us and for His grace in helping fulfil the cherished desires of a small group of families to build a church in Edmonton. As we celebrate the Silver Jubilee  of the Church Building, let us rejoice and praise the Lord  for what he has done  for us, not just the twenty-five years, but for the past forty-two years, when seeds of the Mar Thoma community were planted in Alberta. Let us all abide in Christ and pray for His abundant blessings as we continue our spiritual journey.

 

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