Immanuel Fellowship Church: Grace in a Time of Need
It really doesn’t matter where you are from, or what language you speak; most people on God’s green earth would agree that the name “Winnipeg” sounds 1-part unique, 1-part playful, and 1-part strange. Residents of the more popular parts of North America: New York, Florida, Toronto, Vancouver, Calgary, find the name of this proud Manitoban capital humorous at best. So, you would indeed forgive immigrants from all over the world if they asked you politely to “Please repeat the name of the city. How do you spell it? It sounds cold. It is?!” over and over again as you tried to describe Winnipeg, Manitoba. I remember my first foray into Winnipeg via J.A Richardson Airport. Stepping off the plane, I fell into winds so fierce and so loud that they drowned out my shouting voice, like many waters engulfing an unsuspecting grain of sand. It is to this city however, this playful, strange and unique piece of Canada, that God gifted the Immanuel Fellowship Church of the Evangelical Missionary Church of Christ.
The first thing you notice about Immanuel Fellowship Church (IFC) is the short distance between the parking lot and the actual church auditorium/experience. Attending church all 28 years of my life, I have been used to the lengthy walk from car park to large steps, navigating greetings through the usher’s area and then the weekly decisions performed in milliseconds: “where are my friends? Where will I sit?” Not so with the IFC of Winnipeg. Starting with Immanuel Fellowship’s first city location at 828 Silverstone Avenue and now carried over into the second at 479 St. Mary’s Road, the transition from walk to worship is: 12 strides (I’m 6ft 1) and you’re in, give or take a greeting from a fellow church member. It is surreal to consider: Car Park, Foyer, Worship, easy.
I suspect this quick transition from park to prayer is by subconscious design. You see, if there’s one thing the IFC is big on, it is the Worship of the Most High and prayers offered to Him in reverence. You’ll even find it in the name: “Immanuel Fellowship Church – House of Praise and Prayer”!
The praise sessions are LOUD, then quiet, then loud again. The worship warmly engulfs you like a bear-hug, then shakes and looks over you like a long-lost friend excited to see you again. These familiar feelings are the philosophy of Immanuel Fellowship and the church choir is always happy to welcome you with them. There’s no 1st or 2nd or 3rd gear with the music team, its 120km/h or nothing! And everyone in church is encouraged to come along for the ride.
The prayer sessions are varied and thoughtful, impacted by many backgrounds and points of view, but all tied and striving to make God’s word and desires on earth real. Church members work in hand with the pastors and prayer leaders to bring forward the points for intercession, agreeing in faith. It is a time no one misses (able ushers included)
While the children and youth are led to Sunday School, everyone prepares for the Word. Before Immanuel Fellowship enjoyed the benefits of a large pastoral team available to lead, teach and preach, those responsibilities fell to the strong teamwork of the Senior Pastors: Rev Dr. Deborah Olukoju and Rev Dr. Akin Olukoju.
You’d be hard pressed to find a more intrepid collaboration. The complementary abilities of Pastor Deborah and Pastor Akin seem almost fictional. Walk into their Milikin residence (as welcoming to the public as a Tim Horton’s on a cold day) and you’ll be visited with grace, strength, wisdom, gentleness and above all, love. Even their sermons: Pastor Deborah’s fiery missives and Pastor Akin’s insightful stories seem to work hand-in-hand.
Before pastor-ship, Pastor Deborah was a counselor, Pastor Akin: many things – large vehicle transport, taxi driver, and yes, counselor. Still counseling and Doctors of Theology both, their boundless energy could distract you from their robust experience (as though youth and knowledge couldn’t co-exist), but do not be fooled, they champion God’s cause.
Commitment is the watchword. There is a lot going on at IFC and the Pastors Olukoju, as far as I’ve known them (11 years and counting), have been involved in leading and/or supporting in every aspect. Don’t believe me? Go ahead and be convinced by my fond memories of friends explaining their excitement at attending a church slumber party for the ladies headlined by Pastor Deborah, or the many novices (“of whom I am chief!”) who Pastor Akin taught to drive. For the Olukojus, it has always been about going beyond the call of duty and that same spirit rests with the whole pastoral team today.
I’m getting ready to close (preacher-speak for “I’ve got a little more to say”) but I would be re-miss if I did not point out the non-Sunday aspects of my IFC church description. The body is active at Immanuel Fellowship: Prayer Team, Drama Ministry, Technical Department, Welfare, Beautification, Transportation, Visitation, Children’s ministry, Family, Men, Women, Couples, Youth and Young Adults. These departments all brim with activity and welcome you to serve and be served. A family with an organization’s body.
Now this whole write-up might seem like a puff-piece and I’ll be the first to admit that it is indeed a love letter of sorts, but it is not without cause. The challenges of the body only serve to magnify its gifts, blessings and successes you see, and if that isn’t something to be excited about, I don’t know what is. To look at a church far into the land of Winnipeg, striving for God’s demands, against all odds, is the very essence of the redemptive power of Jesus’s sacrifice. To hope against all hope, under the umbrella of the true Hope, will be the greatest call of the 21st century church.
The world is ever-changing, our children ever exposed, and our beliefs tested and re-examined on a daily basis. A sure foundation is needed. A haven where regardless of struggle, Praise and Prayer stand at guard. So with enough imperfection so no man can boast, but enough gladness that all men can rejoice, in order to ultimately lift One name on high, and to make everyday glorious, Immanuel Fellowship Church of Winnipeg, welcomes you.
Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need. – Hebrews 4:16