SCA History

INTRODUCTION

Sherwood Park Alliance Church is a member church of the Christian & Missionary Alliance in Canada. It is located in Sherwood Park, Alberta, an urban center of 46,000. The church has experienced considerable sustained growth in its forty-three years of existence, to its present average weekly attendance of around two thousand. Many attribute a significant portion of this growth to the ongoing relationship Sherwood Park Alliance Church has with Strathcona Christian Academy, a Christian school started by the church and housed within the church facility. 

This paper will examine the history of the relationship between Strathcona Christian Academy and Sherwood Park Alliance Church, looking at the advantages and disadvantages the relationship has brought to both.   

BACKGROUND 

Sherwood Park Alliance Church - The Early Years

In 1958, Lucy Jaques and Jean Ellis decided to start a Sunday School in Sherwood Park, supported by Beulah Alliance Church in Edmonton. The school opened in November of 1958, in Campbelltown Elementary School.[1] In 1961 the school moved to the Sherwood Park Community Hall, where they often had to clean up from the Saturday night dances before holding Sunday service. Twenty-two people attended the first service, conducted by Rev. Graham Clark. In 1963 the group voted to organize under the constitution of the Christian & Missionary Alliance.[2]

The church finally purchased some land, and in 1966 their new building on Sherwood Drive was dedicated. Rev. Clark moved to B.C. in 1967, replaced by Rev. Erwin Jane. He left in 1971, to be replaced by Rev. Harald Throness. By October of that year, the congregation had again outgrown their facilities. They moved to a nearby school gymnasium, where services would be held until 1975.[3] Wilf Seutter remembers a rather unique service started by Rev. Throness during this time. Sunday evenings, people would drive to Eastgate Mall parking lot, park, roll down their windows, and Rev. Throness would hold a "drive-in" church service.[4]

A Vision of a School

The 1970's were a time of rapid changes in the education system, and Christian parents were becoming alarmed with issues such as sex education in schools. Rev. Harald Throness shared their concern, and started looking at alternatives. After looking into home-school options such as the A.C.E. (Accelerated Christian Learning) program, he developed a vision to create a Christian school in Sherwood Park. He felt it would be the greatest positive impact he could make in ministry to the community.

Not wanting to create division in the church, Rev. Throness was very careful to introduce and develop his vision gently.[5] He wound up with the full support of the congregation, and when they obtained a new parcel of land from church member Frank Koehn, the new building was designed with the idea of one day housing a school. The church building on Wye Road, including gymnasium and two storey Christian Education wing, was completed in 1975, for a congregation of approximately 500.[6]

BIRTH OF STRATHCONA CHRISTIAN ACADEMY

Approaching the School Board

In 1978 the congregation of Sherwood Park Alliance Church voted to add more educational rooms and a sanctuary that would seat 2200. Around this time, Rev. Throness was encouraged to approach the Strathcona County Board of Education about making his vision of a Christian school a reality. The church had hopes of offering the use of their land and building to house a Christian school overseen by the Board of Education.[7]

Rev. Throness approached the Board of Education with a unique proposal. He offered Strathcona Christian Academy (SCA) as a pilot program under a proposed voucher system. The Alberta government had given approval pending acceptance by the Strathcona County Board of Education. After much discussion, the Board declined the church's proposal. The church made the decision to go ahead with plans to open SCA as a private school operating under the authority of the church and the Elders' Board. The school was set to open in the fall of 1980.[8]

A Devastating Fire

On the morning of Saturday May 3, 1980, a worker at the church went upstairs to find the hallways filled with smoke.[9] One of the fifty volunteer firefighters called in was Wilf Seutter, a longtime member of the church. His crew tried to get up the stairs to attack the fire from the inside. "I knew my way around in there, but if you couldn't tell what was burning below you, you just don't go into things like that. If we could have gone just a little bit further..."[10]

By the time the fire was extinguished, six classrooms had been gutted and there was heavy water, heat and smoke damage to the rest of the building and to the multi-million dollar extension under construction at the time. Damages were estimated at over $400,000.[11] The fire, which was originally suspected to be arson, was determined to have started by a malfunction in an electrical motor of an exhaust fan. There were fears that the fire would set back the opening of the school in the fall, but a quick and full insurance settlement put the church's plans back on track.[12]

In retrospect, Rev. Harald Throness sees the fire as having a positive side. With the school opening in the fall, they had the opportunity to redo the Christian Education wing to better suit the needs of the school.[13] The repairs and renovations were completed at a cost of $351,162.[14]

Strathcona Christian Academy Opens

In September of 1980 under Principal Jim Seutter, Strathcona Christian Academy opened its doors to 339 students from 214 families, from Kindergarten to grade 11 (grade 12 was added the following year). Over half of the families represented by the student body were not regular attenders of Sherwood Park Alliance Church.[15]

Strathcona Christian Academy was initially set up as a ministry of Sherwood Park Alliance Church. All assets were carried on the church books. This was to benefit the school by helping them make their way, and it was to benefit the church by offering it some protection. A shared usage agreement was reached between the church and the school, resulting in the school paying 75% and the church paying 25% of all facility, maintenance and facility staff costs.[16]

 GROWING SCHOOL/GROWING CHURCH

The First Ten Years

The year 1982 saw the first graduating class of Strathcona Christian Academy. It also was the beginning of discussions on expansion of the school, possibly due to the enrolment having increased to 531 students for the 1982/83 school year. The church was also growing, with an average weekly attendance of 813.[17]

Again, only about 40% of the families represented in the school attended the church. This in part prompted SCA Board Chairman Ken Epp to say, "We are often admonished to pray for our mission workers, and rightly so. I hope that you are also praying daily for the teachers, administrative staff, and the students of our Academy. We have a very large mission work right in our own church!"[18]

The next few years were ones of growth and adjustment for the school and the church. Both felt a big loss in 1983 with the departure of the school's founder, Rev. Harald Throness, to Chilliwack, B.C. He was replaced by Rev. Del McKenzie, who would lead the church for the next fifteen years. That year also saw the SCA staff record eighteen decisions for Christ by students. Lives were being changed.[19]

The rest of the eighties were marked by minor improvements to the facility, including the addition of two portable classrooms, two counseling rooms, a thousand gallon water cistern, and a large underground sewage reservoir.[20] The school and the church continued to refine their relationship, and the numbers continued to grow for both. By 1986 SCA had 630 students enrolled, and Sherwood Park Alliance Church saw an average weekly attendance of 855. SCA was able to commit $2,000 a month to an aggressive debt repayment campaign undertaken by the church, called "Forward Together With God".[21] By the time the campaign wrapped up at the end of 1988, the facility debt had been reduced from $1.8 million to $600,000.[22]

During this time, SCA was starting to record some impressive academic achievements. Starting in 1986, the Annual Reports consistently show SCA students achieving marks five to ten percent higher than provincial averages in almost all subjects.[23]

By 1989, when Strathcona Christian Academy was approaching its tenth anniversary, enrolment had reached 650 students. There were waiting lists in several grades. Board of Governors Chairman DeWayne Fliss pointed out that if SCA had been able to accommodate all the children who wanted to attend, enrolment would have surpassed 700 for the year. Sherwood Park Alliance Church had also experienced growth, seeing an average of 941 people come to weekly services. The facility was utilized to its capacity, and the available land was maximized as well. The church and school worked together to retain a consulting group to advise them on future growth and priorities.[24]

School Board Discussions Revisited

Also in 1989, the County of Strathcona Board of Education approached the SCA Board to see if they had any interest in becoming an alternate school within the County system. Many meetings followed, with a decision planned for 1990.[25] After much debate, the County declined to pursue the relationship, as they had in 1980 when the school was first being organized.[26]

Because the school remained independent, Principal Jim Seutter became even more involved in the cause to get increased government funding to independent schools. "Choices for Children" was the campaign being waged at that time to make people aware of the unfairness of funding to private schools.[27] SCA's, and especially Jim Seutter's participation in this and other campaigns would ultimately be influential in getting better grants for independent schools.

Growing Again

The growth consultant retained by the school and church in 1989 had come back with a recommendation to the church to pursue growth and prepare for it. A result of this was the purchase of another 5.5 acres from Frank and Hanna Koehn, the original owners of the Wye Road property on which the church and school stand.[28]

In 1991 a Master Facility Plan was developed by representatives of the school and the church, and was approved by the congregation. The plan called for a new full-sized gymnasium, new classrooms/labs, shop, drama and home economics rooms for the school.[29] The plan ultimately also resulted in a church atrium, new church offices, kitchen expansion and new school offices.[30]

1992 saw a change in the structure of the school management. Jim Seutter was appointed Superintendent of SCA, and Len Siemens and Francis Poole were appointed Secondary and Elementary Principals respectively.[31] Construction on Phase I of the Master Facility Plan also commenced in 1992, and was completed in 1993. Jim Seutter commented on the improvements being undertaken by the church on behalf of the school. "I am grateful to be a part of a church that believes in Christian education enough to undertake the burden of a 2.7 million dollar expansion."[32]

By 1995, SCA enrolment had reached 726 students, and Sherwood Park Alliance Church was seeing an average of 1377 people a week. The SCA Futures Committee worked to develop plans for a new gymnasium addition and fund raising for it.[33] The new competition-sized gymnasium was completed in 1999.

A Prime Land Deal

SCA had been scouting for additional land with the intention of building a stand-alone elementary school. They were hoping to find something close to the existing church and school in order to alleviate a potential bussing nightmare. In 1996 the land they sought practically fell into their laps. Twelve acres of County Public Works yards, across the street from the church/school, became available for sale. There were several buildings on the land, one of which would be suitable for renovating to create a core for the school.

Because the property had been used for storage and servicing of vehicles, it was considered contaminated land and would need costly reclamation work. This turned out to be a blessing to the church and school, however, as the purchase price of the land, which should have been in the hundreds of thousands of dollars, was only $58,000. Even factoring in the estimated $275,000 for land reclamation, the property was a bargain. The deal was voted on and carried, and the purchase was made.[34] 

The church decided to make use of the property right away, turning the big building into the only indoor skateboard park in the Edmonton area. A skateboard ministry is carried out there, with over 800 teens being involved at different times. It is the "cutting edge" of youth ministry.[35]

Finally a Public School

The public school board had been reorganized and renamed, and was now Elk Island Public Schools. In 1996 talks started again between Strathcona Christian Academy and the school board to discuss possible association under section 46 of the School Act (providing for alternative schools).[36] Talks continued through 1997, and in 1998 SCA became an Alternative Program of Elk Island Public Schools (EIPS). Finally after seventeen years and three attempts, the school was under the umbrella of the public system and full government funding.[37]

Mike Shellenberg, former Business Manager and Pastor of Strategic Development, calls the EIPS deal the high point of his many years working with the church and school. "The alternate school issue can't be overplayed. It's huge for the success of the school and for the financial future of the church." He also applauds the fact that SCA was able to write all of its own distinctive Christian elements such as the Statement of Faith and Student Code of Conduct into the agreement. SCA was able to keep its Christian values and heritage fully intact.[38]

Government student funding went from approximately 40% to 100%. Because the government didn't provide funding for school facilities owned by other parties, SCA retained a tuition fee to cover the church's maintenance costs. However, the tuitions went down to one third to one half of what they had been, depending on how many children a family had in the school.[39]

In 1999 Jim Seutter spoke of some of the reasons to celebrate the relationship with EIPS. "...Inclusion of new student programs, new curriculum, curriculum resources and inservice training, resource personnel, facility agreement and financial resources."[40]

Looking Toward the Future

The year 2000 saw 758 students enrolled at Strathcona Christian Academy, and 1796 people attending weekly services at Sherwood Park Alliance Church, now under the senior pastorship of Rev. Bob Opperman who had replaced Rev. Del McKenzie in 1998.

An updated Facility Master Plan was developed in 2000 to help guide the building development over the next few years. The first phase of this plan, is an addition to the existing building, designed to give the school some more room and allow the church to take back some of the space it has lost to the school. Construction is set to begin on this phase in the Fall of 2001.[41]  The next phase, in a few years, will be the development of the elementary school on the reclaimed lands purchased from the County.

 CONCLUSION

The benefits of the relationship between Sherwood Park Alliance Church and Strathcona Christian Academy have been huge to both parties. The school benefits by being in a building it couldn't possibly afford to be in otherwise.[42] The school also benefits by being involved with a church that seems constantly willing and able to allow the school to grow.[43]

For the church, the benefits have been numerous. The church has a lot more space than most churches, and Strathcona Christian Academy pays a large portion of the associated costs.[44]

Jan Deboski, Pastor of Adult Education, talks about being able to run full adult elective programs on Sunday mornings as well as a full childrens' program. She also mentions the school's equipment and materials that a church normally might not have access to. In general, a sharing of resources is a benefit both the church and school enjoy.[45]          

There have been downsides to the relationship as well. There is a constant learning and adjusting in having two large organizations co-existing in the same space.[46] The facility is totally booked a large portion of the time, with the school using large portions of the church facilities as well. Jan Deboski refers to it as sometimes being "a church being held in a school".[47] The school also has to deal with the church using their gymnasiums and other facilities.

From a spiritual perspective, the school has been a very positive influence both on the church and the community. The students have Bible study every day. Eileen Smith, one of the original SCA Board members, refers to Isaiah in explaining the impact of Christian education on the students. "so is my word that goes out from my mouth; It will not return to me empty." (Isa 55:11a NIV)[48] Mike Shellenberg credits SCA with contributing to "significant growth" of the church, mainly through new people being introduced to the church through their kids' involvement with SCA.[49]

From the perspective of the parents and students, Strathcona Christian Academy has been a Godsend. The school's reputation for academic excellence has resulted in numerous awards and recognitions. Jan Deboski credits SCA with building her children as leaders and helping them to develop a service mentality.[50] Marilyn Shellenberg talks about the comfort of having supportive teachers for her daughters, who are allowed to teach with the "same rules and morals" as the parents.[51] Alise Shellenberg, a grade 11 student at SCA, lists a number of benefits, with one of the biggest being the teachers' attitude of caring about the student as a person. "They care about your Christian walk, and what's going on in your life." She talks about teachers offering to pray for students, and how the administration and staff pray for all the students in the school throughout the year, following up with notes to the students.[52]

Despite the ups and downs, those who have been involved with the relationship between Strathcona Christian Academy and Sherwood Park Alliance Church look back with no regrets. The hand of God has been evident throughout the history of the church and school. Pastor Jan Deboski says, "I feel extremely blessed to be a part of this. It has been a gift from God in my life."[53] As for the person whose vision started it all, Rev. Harald Throness has no regrets and says he wouldn't have changed anything. "The Lord really led us in all of this, and the results are obvious."[54]


ENDNOTES

 [1] Kate Harrington, ed., Sherwood Park: The First Twenty-Five Years (County of Strathcona: Josten's School Services Ltd., 1983), 101.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Harrington, Sherwood Park, 101.

[4] Wilf Seutter, interview by author, Edmonton, Ab., 8 Aug 2001.

[5] Harald Throness, interview by author, phone interview, Edmonton, Ab./Kelowna, BC., 11 Aug 2001.

[6] Harrington, Sherwood Park, 101.

[7] Ibid., 148,149.

[8] Harald Throness, interview.

[9] Sherwood Park News, Alliance Church Gutted - $400,000 Damage, 7 May 1980, 1.

[10] Wilf Seutter, interview.

[11] Sherwood Park News, Alliance Church Gutted.

[12] Sherwood Park News, Electric Motor Triggered Blaze, 9 May 1980, 1.

[13] Harald Throness, interview.

[14] Donald R. Quark, Treasurer's Report, Sherwood Park Alliance Church 1981Annual Report, 30.

[15] Harrington, Sherwood Park, 148, 149.

[16] Mike Shellenberg, interview by author, Sherwood Park, Ab., 20 Aug 2001.

[17] Jim Seutter, Report of the Principal, Sherwood Park Alliance Church 1982 Annual Report, 3,33.

[18] Ibid, Ken Epp, Strathcona Christian Academy Report, 34.

[19] Jim Seutter, Third Annual Report of the Principal, Sherwood Park Alliance Church 1983 Annual Report, 55.

[20] Jim Seutter, Fourth Annual Report of the Principal, Sherwood Park Alliance Church 1984 Annual Report, 24.

[21] Jim Seutter, Strathcona Christian Academy Report, Sherwood Park Alliance Church 1986 Annual Report, 34.

[22] Report of the Board of Elders, Sherwood Park Alliance Church 1988 Annual Report, 8.

[23] Jim Seutter, Strathcona Christian Academy Report, Sherwood Park Alliance Church 1986 Annual Report, 33.

[24] DeWayne Fliss, Report of the Chairman of the Board of Governors in the Society, Sherwood Park Alliance Church 1989 Annual Report, 34.

[25] Jim Thiessen, Report of the Board of Elders, Sherwood Park Alliance Church 1989 Annual Report, 6.

[26] DeWayne Fliss, Report of the Chairman - Board of Governors, Sherwood Park Alliance Church 1990 Annual Report, 34.

[27] Jim Seutter, Report of the Principal of Strathcona Christian Academy, Sherwood Park Alliance Church 1990 Annual Report, 38.

[28] DeWayne Fliss, Report of the Chairman - Board of Governors, Sherwood Park Alliance Church 1990 Annual Report, 34.

[29] Jim Seutter, Report of the Principal of Strathcona Christian Academy, Sherwood Park Alliance Church 1991 Annual Report, 26, 27.

[30] Mike Shellenberg, interview.

[31] DeWayne Fliss, Report of the Chairman - Board of Governors, Sherwood Park Alliance Church 1992 Annual Report, 25.

[32] Jim Seutter, SCA Superintendent's Report, Sherwood Park Alliance Church 1993 Annual Report, 27.

[33] Jim Seutter, SCA Superintendent's Report, Sherwood Park Alliance Church 1995 Annual Report, 25.

[34] Mike Shellenberg, interview.

[35] Jan Deboski, interview by author, Sherwood Park, Ab., 16 Aug 2001.

[36] Jim Seutter, Strathcona Christian Academy Superintendent's Report, Sherwood Park Alliance Church 1996 Annual Report, 28.

[37] Strathcona Christian Academy Report, Sherwood Park Alliance Church 1998 Annual Report, 8.

[38] Mike Shellenberg, interview.

[39] Ibid.

[40] Jim Seutter, Strathcona Christian Academy Report, Sherwood Park Alliance Church 1999 Annual Report, 7.

[41] Time to Grow Brochure, Sherwood Park Alliance Church, 2000, 9.

[42] Mike Shellenberg, interview.

[43] Jan Deboski, interview.

[44] Mike Shellenberg, interview.

[45] Jan Deboski, interview.

[46] Mike Shellenberg, interview.

[47] Jan Deboski, interview.

[48] Eileen Smith, interview by author, Sherwood Park, Ab., 7 Aug 2001.

[49] Mike Shellenberg, interview.

[50] Jan Deboski, interview.

[51] Marilyn Shellenberg, interview by author, Sherwood Park, Ab., 20 Aug 2001.

[52] Alise Shellenberg, interview by author, Sherwood Park, Ab., 20 Aug 2001.

[53] Jan Deboski, interview.

[54] Harald Throness, interview.