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Galt Museum explores how religion affects communities in the Bible Belt

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There is an old adage that goes If you want to start an argument, either talk about politics or religion. Well instead of an Austin Fennel talks to Wendy Aitkens about one of the pieces in the exhibit. Photo by Richard Ameryargument, the Galt Museum hopes to  start a discussion about religion and its contribution to the community in their new exhibit Religion in the Bible Belt, which officially opens, Sept. 22.
 As soon as Galt Museum patrons enter the exhibit, they are greeted by a scale model of St. Andrews Presbyterian Church, which was built for Lethbridge’s centennial in 1985.


 Looking around, there are special panels about each religious denomination in the community and their contributions. There are information panels about the contributions of Niitsitapii (Blackfoot), Catholic, Anglican, Methodist, Presbyterian, United Church, Mormon, Buddhism, Hutterites and Mennonites. She noted others are not mentioned but that does not mean their successes and influence are any less important.

“They provided a social welfare network, started schools, established medical care, became politically involved, built impressive buildings, organized social groups for all ages and offered musical and theatrical entertainment for the whole community,”  she summarized in a press release.


“ We‘re doing this exhibit because the community asked us to,” said curator Wendy Aitkens adding the museum had previously done a survey in the city about what exhibits people would like to see. Religion was one of them.


It is a monumental subject to tackle, so Aitkens narrowed the focus down to religion in Lethbridge between the late 1800s and 1930.
There are panels about the impact of religion on southern Alberta in a variety of ways as well as displays of religious items like chairs, crosses and communion paraphernalia.


“ Religion originally had an impact on  the majority of things we think of when we think of community,” she said.


Aitkens noted the exhibit explores several different areas where religion has had an impact— the economy as a lot of Mormons came to Canada because of the irrigation system; missions as a lot of churches came to spread their beliefs among settlers and the native population; culture as churches were the source of much community entertainment in the days before televisions, cell phones and the internet; moral and social reform as churches spearheaded much social reform and community support in  a time before the government were concerned with it;  plus education and the medical system as Aitkens said schools were often the first buildings built and they usually doubled as the church as well churches provided the first nurses.

“ There is a lot of information. This is just the tip. I hope people will want to discover more,” she said crediting the exhibit as a team effort. Items and information came from the Galt Museum archives and a variety of community sources, though Aitkens also did a lot of first hand research by going to  local Hutterite colonies to get a sense of their history and contributions.


 Austin Fennel, who has written two books about religion in Southern Alberta was in impressed with the exhibit.
“Wendy has done a phenomenal job,” he said.


“ I hope people will look at  the exhibit and look at the contributions to the community of a wide spectrum of belief systems,” Aitkens said.


“ There is just enough stuff here to tease you,” she said.
The Galt Museum is also hosting several special programs and panels in conjunction with the exhibit.
 The next program is Wednesday at the Galt on Oct. 2 at 2 p.m. with getting Martha Out of the Kitchen: Christian Women Activists.
 The Oct 16 program explores Buddhism in From Japan to Raymond: Buddhism on the move.
 Wednesdays at the Galt on Dec. 4 features Religion and Distorted Nationalities.
 the next lecture series is Oct. 17 featuring Alberta’s Religious Mavericks.
 there are also events every Saturday at 1 p.m. exploring  herb gardens, pemmican, tea parties, Advent calendars , family trees and candles. Go to www.galtmuseum.com for more information.
 The exhibit officially opens at 2 p.m., Sept. 22. It runs until Jan. 12.

— by Richard Amery, L.A. Beat Editor
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