The Pentecostal movement, and the ACOP, have shaped and directed the formation of Smythe Street Church in Fredericton, New Brunswick. From its ACOP affiliates in initial tent meetings along the river to her present-day location “up the hill”, each bend in her story could be likened to the winding path of the Saint John River that cuts through the city.
The 97-year-old history of Smythe Street Church has seen seasons of intense rainfall and drought, flooded embankments, and shallow streams. This river of faith has often cut through difficult terrain, chipping away at old sediment, widening embankments, and swelling into deep pools that have pushed into a steady, moving river, nourishing new growth.
1924 found the Pentecostal “Holy Rollers” under the influence of the Davis Sisters, Win T. Stairs, Clifford Crabtree, Henry and Margaret Flewelling, and Earl Jacques, causing an evangelical ruckus in tent meetings held in downtown Fredericton along the Woodstock Road.
They garnered so much attention that The Daily Gleaner reports that City Hall banned them from congregating within the city limits. Ironically a town alcoholic had an issue of contention with city hall and in spite offered his building for the group to meet.
1924-47 was a busy time of growth under Rev. Earl Jacques’ leadership. Many stories are told of cutting holes in the St. John River ice to baptize converts to faith, wooden legs floating down river ‘n all.
Discussion began over the need to acquire land and construct a building. After various rental properties back and forth across the river, a property was purchased on the corner of Argyle and Westmorland Street. Building of the First Pentecostal Church located on Argyle Street began in 1947.
Earl Jacques was a “People’s Pastor”, a true shepherd of the people with a passion for prayer. Known for being accessible and a man of great wisdom, with a love for laughter, many different churches in Fredericton consider him their church Grandfather.
Until the late 60’s, there were many theological and doctrinal debates and discussions on which path of Pentecostalism should characterize the future. The Pastors Earl Jacques, Bill Stapley, Senior Alison & Junior Howard Post, Märt Vähi, and Verner Drost continued to value their rich Pentecostal heritage.
In 1966, after 20 years, the church membership had outgrown its new facility on Argyle Street. Sunday nights in the mid-1970s was wall to wall seating, often filling the facility. Rev. Howard Post commissioned eighteen families to start a church on the Northside of the river on Bloor Street.
Howard Post was known as a black and white intellectual, an intense and studious man of the Bible whose heart for the deeper truths of the word found him drawing large crowds for his preaching and gift in communicating. In 1976, Post moved West to join the ACOP and start the Pentecostal Missionary Fellowship.
Enter Rev. Mart Vähi, “like a bull in a china shop”. In 1982 after pursuing Mr. Chippan weekly for his property, Märt Vähi and 200 parishioners turned ground at 913 Smythe Street.
The early 1980s was a time of extreme interest rates, up to 22%. Massive building projects were highly discouraged. Through much faith, prayer, manual labour, and heartfelt investment, families took out financial bonds, Märt went without salary for a year, and Smythe Street Cathedral was built and dedicated in May of 1982.
During his leadership, Märt created the Fredericton School of the Bible. He was a radical man of faith; a visionary, always thinking 10 years down the road. Certainly, he made “heads-spin” around him, but he remains revered as “Father Mentor”. He led the church for 12 years, from 1978-1990.
Rev. Verner Drost was brought on staff at Smythe Street Cathedral as Youth and Assistant Pastor in 1987. In 1990, Märt met with Verner and explained that he was returning to his home country, Estonia in Eastern Europe. He asked Verner to become Senior Pastor of Smythe Street Cathedral. Märt then left, began planting churches and raising leaders, and years later began the Village of Hope, a drug and rehabilitation centre with his son Andrew.
Both Märt and Verner were very influenced by the charismatic movement of the late ’60s, but the contrast between the two men’s leadership styles was summed up by an Elder and long-time member, “Märt was like a roaring river, constantly in motion, cutting edge, impulsive and adventuresome. Verner was like calm water, a gentle river, flowing through, peaceful, careful, a teacher.”
Verner Drost’s leadership stabilized the church with good checks and balances, sound bylaws, doctrinal statements, a theological breadth. His leadership over the last 32 years allowed SSC to flow widely into the community. With an Easter Passion play that ran for 20 years telling the gospel to thousands, one of the longest-running Alpha Courses in Canada, and a heart to be a welcoming church, SSC spilled its banks, needing an additional service on Sundays to hold the growth.
Looking forward, Smythe Street Church’s vision is expressed as a range of ‘mountains’ to traverse. New streams are being cut around care for the vulnerable, partnering with others to address homelessness in Fredericton and systemic poverty in Haiti.
There is a renewed focus on clarity in discipleship, as well as aligning NextGen ministries from birth into adulthood. All this is done with attention to the importance of relationships in discipleship, a desire to grow ‘life on life’, empowering new leaders, and striving to think bigger than just SSC but to be Kingdom centred. The new riverbed that lies ahead promises to be both challenging and rewarding.
As Smythe Street Church comes close to celebrating 100 years of its roots in the faith, we pause to reflect on the ebbs and flows of her ministry. From her initial fervor in the 1920s, a line of faithful leaders and ministers have listened for the heart of God for this congregation and guided its influence in the Kingdom.
—Written & Submitted by Heidi Billington NextGen Ministries @Smythe Street Church