A new church was recently built at the intersection of Sandiford and Hoover Park in Stouffville. Planning and funding the Stouffville Pentecostal Church project began 10 years ago. It has been a feat of endurance for the mid-sized congregation. Anyone belonging to the church is all smiles when asked about the new modern-looking building. Upon entering, a contemporary and bright Starbucks-like café appears on one side of the spacious lobby with a curved counter, pendant lighting, gas fireplace and bistro seating. Opposite the cafe is the doorway to the church offices.
Ahead is a large opening to the sanctuary, which immediately draws one in. Instead of reporting in to Pastor Jeff Laird as arranged, I B-lined for the sanctuary. The wide and open sanctuary is octagonal with a grid of taupe coloured sound absorption panels against white walls. There must be well over a thousand of these panels; this clearly wasn’t an inexpensive or under-engineered project. The brown tones of the carpeting and cushioned chairs provide a softening effect.
The most amazing part of the sanctuary is a massive, white, octagonal ‘donut’ that floats overhead, with black space surrounding and centering it. I reflect on the similarity to the alien flying saucers seen in the movie Independence Day. I later learn that the overhead structure is appropriately referred to as the cloud. It supports lighting, as well as a sense of awe.
Back on track, I report in to Pastor Jeff, who begins the tour with the sanctuary. The wide entrance to the sanctuary can be closed with a series of tracked sliding glass doors. There are 425 seats, plus the balcony, that when finished will add another 225. Toward the rear of the seating, Pastor Jeff points out the 3-person tech booth where lighting, sound and video is managed. On either side, behind glass with optional curtains are soundproof viewing areas that are wired for sound and video, presumably for small children and nursing mothers.
At the head of the sanctuary is an elevated broad stage. Overhead and to the rear is a large video screen. Pastor Jeff explains that every station on stage is equipped with a personal mixer and computer hook-up. Front fill speakers are built into the stairs below the stage. A prompting screen is at the rear of the room. The technological component of this new church is stunning. Everything in the space points to an emphasis on experience, which I later learn is quite intentional.
Although I have only met him once, Pastor Jeff strikes me as a very positive, kind and an accommodating individual. He is middle in age – not old, but wise.
Apparently, he started in Stouffville fresh out of bible school back in 1991. From here, he moved with his wife Helen and three boys to Ottawa and Burlington, gathering experience along the way. Pastor Jeff was called back to Stouffville in 2009, which is when planning the new church commenced. The Stouffville Pentecostal Church dates to 1968 when it got started in the Altona Community Centre. In 1973 they bought land and built a church on Stouffville’s Main Street. Despite an addition being built in 1985, the expanding congregation was to outgrow the space. This is their 50th anniversary.
The tour continues. Hallways to either side of the sanctuary lead to different areas: a multi-purpose room and offices to one side, and a children’s wing (that is compliant with the day care act), complete with reception desk and iPad check-in, to the other. There is a nursery, four kids’ rooms, and a sound-proofed room for older kids and young adults. Most spaces are wired for sound and video. Pastor Jeff explains that the church was designed to accommodate a Phase 2 expansion, perhaps including a gymnasium, showers, banquet facility, and more space for summer camps. “We did the right thing and patiently planned for the next 50 years,” he said.
While touring Stouffville Pentecostal it becomes clear that this is not an ordinary church. It is advanced, modern, informal and the language used to describe things, such as stage vs altar, is different. Is it a church or a community social hub? Pastor Jeff explains that this church isn’t about ritual and prescribed liturgy, but rather focused on fellowship – a community that celebrates together.
In short, I read that Pentecostals believe that faith must be powerfully experiential, and not something found merely through ritual or thinking. Pentecostal worship is designed to bring about an experience of God moving within them, and to this end the atmosphere, worship-leading and music encourage this. The gifts of the spirit are often demonstrated during church services, sometimes quite dramatically. There can be a great deal of active involvement, as the worshippers may dance, clap and share experiences.
Pentecostalism began among the poor and disadvantaged in North America, predominantly in the USA at the start of the Twentieth century. It adapts easily to local traditions and incorporates local music and other cultural elements in worship, enabling people to retain elements of their spirituality when they move to a Pentecostal church. This adaptability has also made it easy for non-Pentecostal churches to include Pentecostal elements.
The Pentecostal movement in Canada evolved similarly to other parts of the world. In 1920 there were 27 Pentecostal churches; today there are more than 1100 affiliated churches in Canada. From 1981 to 1995, Pentecostal officials estimated an increase from 300,000 to 500,000 active participants in Canadian Pentecostal churches, while membership in other Christian denominations declined overall. There are now over 250 million Pentecostals around the world, who make up more than 10% of all Christians. Some writers suggest the number is more like 500 million.
A tour of the new church is recommended. Consider joining Stouffville Pentecostal Church on their Grand Opening Fun Day September 15, and/or the Grand Opening Service September 16; all members of the public are invited.