The Canadian National Exhibition is the biggest annual show in Canada. Like a World's Fair, it has permanent buildings for all sorts of displays, grandstand attractions, and a "great white way" of amusements. And it draws millions of people from all over Canada and many visitors from other countries.
Naturally, in this atmosphere, where millions come just to see what is new in the world, a religious-type exhibit would stand out and attract thousands. That is exactly what a Seventh-day Adventist exhibit did last August.
For several years denominational leaders in Canada have given study to more effective ways of acquainting the public with Adventists, their beliefs and activities. Several new methods of approaching various segments of the public developed from this study. But it remained for Mrs. Elisabeth Calver, press secretary of the First Seventh-day Adventist church in Toronto, to envision and first give expression to the vast potential an exhibit in the Canadian National Exhibition would afford.
Just prior to a union committee meeting in the fall of 1952, Mrs. Calver approached Walter A. Nelson, president of the Canadian Union. Elder Nelson, whose public relations awareness is well known, quickly assessed the possibilities in such an undertaking. He submitted the proposal to the committee, where it was adopted.
A tentative budgetary appropriation was approved and an Exhibition Committee was appointed to implement the action. Charles G. Marade, manager of the Kingsway Publishing Association in Oshawa, was appointed chairman and Darren L. Michael, secretary of the department of public affairs for the Adventist Church in Canada, was named secretary.
The committee immediately filed an application for space at the Exhibition—and began the long wait for official action. Such is the demand for space that some applicants have to wait many years before getting in. However, on July 4 of last year the committee was notified that exhibit space was available to the Seventh-day Adventist Church.
With thanksgiving to God, Elders Maracle and Michael and others initiated a plan of action that resulted in one of the most attractive and best-attended exhibits in the entire Exhibition. It was in a location where most of the three million persons attending passed. The Exhibition Committee was composed of ten persons, each of whom in turn worked with subcommittees to care for detailed assignments.
Personnel from the Canadian Union, the Ontario-Quebec Conference, Oshawa Missionary College, the Kingsway Publishing Association, and local churches were active members of the various committees.
It was felt that in view of the Exhibition's following closely on the heels of the World Council of Churches Second Assembly, a picture of Christ should dominate the exhibit. This did more than any eloquent declamations could have accomplished to point out that Seventh-day Adventists are, indeed, a Christian denomination which cherishes the Christian hope.
Because of the eschatological views of Adventists many people have been led to believe that the denomination cares little for social betterment and possesses little, if any, sense of community responsibility. In using one wall to emphasize Adventist welfare work it was felt any such charge would be refuted, and the impression could be given that Adventists' observance of the Master's pattern of living included an awareness of the needs of others.
Another wall was used to emphasize dramatically the place the Bible and other Christian literature play in the cultural life of Seventh-day Adventists. It became one of the most popular sections of the exhibit.
Since the exhibit plan called for the avoidance of any commercial atmosphere, a section of the booth was set aside for a lounge. People get tired of walking from exhibit to exhibit at such affairs, and the Adventist lounge with its courteous attendants proved to be a very popular spot. Naturally plenty of Adventist literature was on hand at all times, and while it was distributed quite liberally, no attempt was made to force its acceptance.
The central theme of the exhibit was aptly illustrated by T. K. Martin's painting, Christ Our Righteousness, and Adventist welfare work was depicted by Clyde Provonsha's painting appearing on the 1955 Ingathering journal cover.
Lettering on the north wall and overhead fascia sought to correlate Adventist medical-welfare work with the devotional and doctrinal structure of the faith. Literature distributed to more than one hundred thousand persons stressed the physical and spiritual balance necessary to well-integrated life. Music by well-known artists especially taped for the exhibit greatly enhanced the religious atmosphere of the booth.
The accompanying pictures illustrate the various aspects of the exhibit discussed here. '
Of special interest to readers of THE MINISTRY are experiences related by personnel who manned the exhibit. It would take a book to relate all of them. A few will have to suffice here.
Miss B. stopped to talk with J. Leonard Leatherdale, assistant general manager of the Kingsway Publishing Association, who was taking a shift in the booth on the opening night. From her pronounced English accent he guessed that she was either a new Canadian or just visiting. It so happened that she was visiting Canada, and among her friends was one who was a Seventh-day Adventist.
Seeing an Adventist exhibit whetted her appetite to know more about the denomination before returning to England. She enrolled in the Bible course and asked that the address of the Adventist church nearest her home in Sussex be forwarded to her. A recent letter from one of our minister's in England reveals that this lady is taking a great interest in her study of the Adventist faith and shows promise of being ready for baptism before the gates of the 1955 Exhibition open!
Slipping into the lounge unnoticed, a middle-aged man was engaged in conversation by Mrs. Irma Reynolds, an Ontario-Quebec Conference Bible instructor, who served as one of the hostesses. His short though soulful story revealed that some eight years ago he had been baptized into the Adventist church, but had lost his way from the church and the paths of faith since that time. Recently his wife had died, and he had begun to realize how empty life was without Christ and without his loved ones. When invited to renew his acquaintance with the church he responded readily, but expressed his fears that he hardly knew where to start picking up the threads of a tangled life. His enrollment and request for prayer soon became the focus of intense interest and prayer by the workers at the booth, the conference office, and in the district where he now resides.
These two examples stress the fact that this type of evangelism is soul winning indeed, though perhaps not so spectacular or rapid as some of the more orthodox or conventional methods. It definitely affords, however, a solid groundwork for further evangelism of any type.