Every December, just west of Edmonton in the town of Stony Plain, Alta., the wooden platform in the sanctuary of Hope Christian Reformed Church becomes the stage for some of the finest in country music. “Cowboy Christmas” is a fundraising concert that has hosted country music legends and emerging artists for 20 years and an opportunity to share the Christmas story.
Country music producers John and Carmen Lindsay, members of Hope CRC, started this event with former pastor Russell Graff to raise funds for the maintenance of the historic 1912 church on their current church property. Carmen Lindsay, a cowboy poet, singer, and songwriter also performs each year; Graff, now retired from ministry, still helps organize the event. Over the past two decades, this seasonal concert has become a part of the local culture in a community rich with country music talent.
In recent years, now that the 1912 clapboard church is under the care of a historical society, funds raised through a good-will offering are split between two area charities, Stony Plain Kinsmen for their Christmas hamper program and Hope Mission in Edmonton, to pay for Christmas dinners for those who use the shelter.
“It’s the little concert that could,” said John Lindsay. “It’s really a community hallmark and the beginning of the Christmas celebrations for most. For some, it’s the only time of the year that they will step into a church.”
“The event really points people to Jesus with the message of Christ’s birth front and center,” explained Rev. Jacob Boer, current pastor of Hope CRC.
Artists perform in sets, either solo or with other musicians. Stewart MacDougall (pictured above), Miles Wilkinson, and PJ Perry are a few of the musicians who have played, some returning year after year. In 2017 local singer/songwriter Karen Claypool and country music hall of fame’s R. Harlan Smith joined the event. A highlight of the night is listening to Bryn Thiessen, a cowboy poet and pastor of the Cowboy Trail Church.
“It is really something to hear Bryn Thiessen tell the story of creation, fall, redemption, and salvation in his own cowboy way,” said Boer. Thiessen has been a part of Cowboy Christmas since it began.
To close the concert each year, Carmen Lindsay leads the participating musicians in “Silent Night,” after singing the first verse herself in German. The centuries-old song is part of her heritage, as its lyricist, Joseph Mohr, is her ancestral uncle.