Religious Services

The Manual of Instruction for the alternative service work program encouraged COs to hold religious service. While the government would not pay for any of these services, “full cooperation should be extended,” the manual said, “to any denomination wishing to send in a Minister at their own expense. This cooperation may take the form of providing automobile transport into the camp and free lodging while there.”

Also, if the camp were near enough to church, “truck transportation for such men should be provided for this purpose.” If a minister wished to stay for an extended period of time, he would have to pay for his meals, but he had the option of working a few hours a day instead.

This open policy meant, as Abram L. Ens remembers, that “there were no restrictions about practicing your faith. Various groups had various activities. There were five Hutterite boys who had prayer meetings nightly in the recreation hall. Some other groups practiced gospel singing.” [ASM, 229-231]

Wilson Hunsberger remembers that there was a range of COs from different denominations at the camp and they did not all worship together. 

The type and frequency of services in each depended on the men.

David Jantzi explains that the COs at his camp took turns being in charge of the worship services.

 Ed Bearinger enjoyed the services that were held outside on a hill under some trees.

The COs in Jasper National Park had a variety of spiritual activities. Peter A. Unger relates some of them.

“A very important factor in our camp life was the devotional exercises. There were those who had had Bible school training and did very well as spiritual leaders. There were midweek Bible studies with testimonies and prayer sessions. We also had Sunday morning services. The singing was a cappella [without instruments]. It was robust singing. There were several who had accordions. There may have been other instruments. This spiritual emphasis inspired a goodly number to read the Scriptures and devote themselves to prayer.” [ASM, 210-218]

At the Kananaskis Forest Experimental Station in Seebe, Alberta, near Jasper National Park, Klaas Isaac spent two years building roads and doing forestry work. The services there led to opportunities to share the Christian message.  

"Our camp being situated between two POW camps, we frequently rubbed shoulders with the Canadian Army guard and also worked at the same work the German prisoners of war did when they came out of their camps. This often provided opportunities to witness for the cause of peace and for the Word of God. Some of the Veterans' Guard would also attend our Gospel services held on Sunday mornings and week-day evenings." [ASM, 22]

The system of visiting ministers exposed the COs to a different styles of preaching. In the early days of the alternative service work system, Erwin R. Giesbrecht remembers, the ministers needed as much support as the COs.

“Riding Mountain Park had three camps. The churches had one minister to serve the camps, which meant that we could expect to have evening devotions every third day. Each minister stayed about four weeks. We found that possibly the ministers were caught as unprepared in their duties as any. I believe for some it must have been the first English sermon they preached and prayed. There were ministers by the name of Rev. Friesen, Rev. Reimer, and Rev. Epp, and possibly some visits by others. They sure were different from one another. One of the boys told me he had never heard a sermon preached by memory as a speech. He could hardly call that a sermon. Most of the ministers read their thoughts and meditations off a script.” [ASM, 75-93]

Elias Brubacher felt that the spiritual life at the camp where he served was very good. In one case a speaker was stranded at the camp for a week. The young COs enjoyed listening to him speak about a wide range of topics.