The church that beef built

Cattle sale fundraisers were the backbone 
of Airdrie United Church — one reason it registered its own cattle brand

It’s a church built upon Alberta beef.

And that’s why it’s also a church that once had a registered cattle brand, the simple AUC registered for the left rib.

Airdrie United Church celebrates its 115th anniversary April 28-30 and while preparing display material for the festivities, Reverend Karen Holmes came across the notice of renewal for the church’s official cattle brand.

Though she has served in various Alberta churches since being ordained 29 years ago, a church with a cattle brand was a first for Holmes.

She decided to investigate and found that at various times when funds were needed for church building projects, members raised cattle and donated the sale proceeds to the church.

“One of the reasons they got the brand registered is because they were having issues keeping track of the calves. It just was a way to help keep things clear,” said Holmes a few days before the anniversary celebrations.

“One farmer told me that his father was one of the guys that had the calves in his feedlot … and one of the church calves died. He felt really, really bad about that. It was just one of those things that happened, so when it came time for the sale he substituted in one of his own calves so the church wouldn’t go short.

“I love that. I think it’s hilarious. So maybe one of the reasons for the brand was to keep farmers from being overly generous.”

Holmes and others in the congregation have learned the brand was likely registered in 1970 or 1971 and renewed until the early 1990s.

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However, it seems likely that cattle were used for fundraising as far back as the 1960s and possibly longer.

One church member is going through old records to find figures on church loans involved in buying cattle and funds raised from sales.

“We’re really curious to find out in a year how many calves were purchased and how many were sold and what kind of profit did they make,” said Holmes.

“It’s kind of fun. It’s not the normal thing you see in a church ledger book.”

The other mystery is why a church would celebrate the somewhat unusual anniversary number of 115.

Holmes cleared that up right away. It’s because the church, established in 1902, missed celebrating its centennial, and when Holmes came to Airdrie last April as an interim minister, she learned of the oversight and set the congregation’s sights on a 115th anniversary event.

The church has a proud history, she said. In a town situated so close to the big and boisterous City of Calgary, ministers and many residents came and went, but there was slow and steady growth among ranchers and farmers in the region.

“The church was one of the gathering places in town. It was a congregation that was kind of like a prairie union church. It didn’t matter what denomination you were part of. You came to this church because it was the only one in town.”

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Protestants used the church on Sunday mornings and Catholics in the afternoon, said Holmes.

Long-time area residents have told her that “back in the day, there was really nothing that started in Airdrie that didn’t start in a conversation in the United Church parking lot, or after coffee.”

Though the original church was built in 1903, replaced in 1921 and added to in the 1980s, it now faces the need for either replacement or extensive and expensive repairs.

As always, funding for a new church is a challenge and Holmes said members have been pondering ways to raise money. She doesn’t know if that will involve branding cattle, as it has in times past.

That may be discussed at the April 28 banquet that will start off anniversary celebrations.

The menu?

Roast beef, of course.

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