Few churches have had as big an impact on the history of Red Deer over the past 100 years as the Church of the Nazarene.
Not only have there been two congregations of Nazarenes in Red Deer, but also over the years, the Church operated a college in Red Deer as well as a large summer revival camp.
The origins of the Church go back to the fall of 1912 when Rev. Thomas Bell and his family moved to Red Deer.
Rev. Bell was the same person who had established the first Church of the Nazarene in Alberta in Calgary in 1911.
Shortly after his arrival, Rev. Bell was able to have two lots on Ross St. at the foot of Michener Hill, donated as a site for a church. While the building was under construction, prayer services were held in his home.
On Jan. 5, 1913, the new little church officially opened, with Rev Bell and Rev. W.B. Tait conducting the services.
Immediately afterwards, an interdenominational holiness convention was convened, followed by a week of revival services.
The congregation, however, remained small with some seven members including the Bell family. In early November of 1913, Rev. C.W. Ruth, a noted evangelist from Indiana, conducted an eleven-day revival.
According to the news reports, the revival services were a success “With deepening interest and increasing attendance” each night.
Further progress was made in mid-November 1914 when the Alberta and Saskatchewan Holiness Association held a three-day convention in Red Deer to “Deepen the spiritual life of believers, create a revival atmosphere and contribute generally to the building of God’s Kingdom among men.”
In late June 1915, the provincial Nazarene camp meeting was held in Red Deer for the first time in a big tent pitched on the corner of Ross St. and 47 Ave.
The local Nazarene Church continued to strengthen in the hard economic times that followed the First World War.
In 1920, the little church was moved to a more central location on the corner of 48 Ave. and 48 St.
In 1923, land was purchased on Woodlea Cresc. for camp meetings. In the spring of 1925, seven additional acres in the Woodlea subdivision were purchased for the summer camp meetings and a tabernacle was constructed.
In 1927, a decision was made to establish the Alberta School of Evangelism in Red Deer. Initially, the large old Springbett house on 48 St. was rented for use as the school, the students’ dormitory and the home for Rev. Charles Thomson and his family.
In 1929, using a bequest and the proceeds from the sale of Rev. Thomson’s Model T. Ford, a large parcel of land was purchased along Gaetz Ave. south of 45 St. as a campus for what was now going to be called the Northern Bible College.
A large two-storey building was constructed, largely with volunteer labour.
By 1932, the College had grown to the extent that that a second, three-story building was built.
That same year, work began on a much larger church building on the corner of Ross St. and 48 Ave.
In the years following the Second World War, another eight acres were purchased for the College campus, additions were made to the dormitories and an administration building was constructed.
In 1950, a building was moved from the Penhold airport for use as a chapel, music studios and gymnasium.
Initially, nicknamed the ‘green cathedral’ by students, it was named the Martin Memorial Building, in honour Dr. Edward Martin, president of the College, who died suddenly on Christmas Day, 1951.
In 1961, the Nazarene College was sold and the institution was moved to Winnipeg.
The Ross St. church was also sold and a new First Church of the Nazarene was constructed on 40 Ave. and McVicar St. in 1963-1964.
Meanwhile, in 1962, the West Park Church of the Nazarene was formed.
Initially, a small building was purchased from the Salvation Army. In 1964, a new church building was constructed. In 1993, there was a major expansion with a new sanctuary and fellowship hall being constructed.
Despite all the changes over the past 100 years, what has never wavered is the bedrock Christian faith of the Church’s members, the spirit of evangelism and revivalism, and an enduring commitment to God, Jesus Christ, family and community.