Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of May 15, 2000
Prayer group celebrates its history
Assumption charismatics once had largest prayer group in Edmonton
By ANH HOANG
WCR Staff Writer
Prayer is a joyful thing. It's a charismatic thing.
"Prayer is an individual personal thing," said Alex Toporowski, a member of the Our Lady of Assumption prayer group. "Many people don't like to announce it. They keep it very quiet. They like to stay in their own little world and just have it between them and God.
"But what we do is we try to live that life and try to explain that to others, . . . to live like Jesus does, to have this joy in our lives."
Toporowski and the members of his prayer group are anything but quiet. With their hands raised and their voices projected, their "Alleluia" and "Praise God" can be heard throughout the room.
Their voices were also heard throughout Assumption Church May 8, when they and other local prayer groups gathered to celebrate the 33rd anniversary of the charismatic renewal movement. It was also a celebration of the Assumption group's 24th anniversary.
"This is the year of the jubilee, everyone said we should celebrate," said Edwidge Gouin, who has led the Assumption group since its beginnings. "Thirty-three years also depicts the ministry of Jesus. What a wonderful number!"
The charismatic movement started in 1967 at Duquesne University in Pittsburgh, Penn., when a group of faculty members and students gathered for a retreat. The movement spread like prairie fire around the world.
The Assumption group is the oldest in the city. At one time, it was the largest.
It started with seven and grew to more than 350. But over the years, people have come and gone, more going than coming. The dwindling number is not a surprise to Gouin. People often think of prayer in times of need. It's often worries and problems that have brought people to the group's Monday night meetings.
"They come because they have a need," Gouin said. And if that need is fulfilled, rarely do people come back or continue with the group.
Toporowski and his wife Anne have been part of the prayer group's music ministry for the past decade. But their history with charismatic prayer groups goes back more than 20 years.
They were introduced to a similar evangelical prayer group in the mid-1970s. Toporowski's boss, who was part of the group, "had a very peaceful nature about him and I liked him and I thought I'd like to be like that someday."
It wasn't until after he attended a Full Gospel Businessmen's luncheon that he discovered the joy and power of prayer.
"All these people were so upbeat and very joyful," Toporowski said. "There were men hugging each other, men hugging women, everyone was so joyful. I felt such a power through me all this time. The atmosphere was peaceful.
"I thought, 'That's what I want, that peacefulness. I don't know how to get it, but I want it.'"
He joined the Assumption prayer group and later started one in Millwoods.
"It's like a beautiful family. Sometimes even our biological family is not as close to us as our prayer family is. We're not biologically connected but we're spiritually connected . . . and when you're one in the Spirit, you're one in the Lord."
Over the years, Toporowski has said dozens of prayers for others and for his own family. And he's seen how those prayers have been answered.
After his wife developed epilepsy in 1985, she was prayed over by members of the prayer group and eventually her grand mal seizures stopped and were replaced by minor ones.
"It's helped her to cope and it's helped me too," Toporowski said. "We believe in the power of prayer."
Gouin has done her share of praying for people whom she has never seen again. But some, she said, do come back out of the blue to say "thank you."
"One lady came back 10 years later and thanked us for healing her son's drug addiction."
The group has prayed for cancer patients, strained relationships, parenting advice and the list goes on.
For Cecile Van Beek, being part of the group helped her marriage.
Through the prayers and worship, "it has made me accept my husband for who he is. It's made me realize what a gift he is."
The former teacher joined the group in 1978 when she was seeking a deeper relationship with God. Since then she has been inspired by the people she's prayed with and for.
"It gives you hope . . . that you're not alone in this world," she said.
The excitement generated by the group sometimes keeps people at bay. It's not always supported by the clergy and "ordinary Catholics are wary of it," Van Beek said.
At the beginning of the movement, the euphoria was so high, many charismatics went overboard and, as Gouin put it, "Everyone went ahead of the Holy Spirit. Everyone wanted things right away. They wanted to change everything too fast."
The Church has always been slow to change, which has made it difficult at times to get its support, said Gouin. The support and membership have fluctuated over the years, but it's not something that deters her.
"I think that's what scares people," she said. "There's such joy in it. We lift our hands and smile. It's very joyful.
"To me, it isn't a fad; it's a divine visitation from the Lord. It's like Jesus is standing at the door knocking. We have to open the door and invite him in."
Van Beek added, "Unless you experience it for yourself, you're on the outside judging.
"People are afraid they'll get this emotional high and that's all there is. But emotional highs are a good thing because they help you with the lows."
It's not surprising that charismatics speak of their prayer group with such enthusiasm and joy, two characteristics of the group itself. That joy of knowing Christ and praising him has not been isolated to the weekly meetings. Those like Toporowski, Van Beek and Gouin carry it with them everyday.
"You get so excited about it, you want to share it with people," Van Beek said.
Gouin added, "The charismatic life is the life of the Spirit, being guided by the Spirit. The greatest miracle is the realization that the personal relationship with Jesus is real. It's not something you encounter just on Sundays or at special events, but everyday."