Wednesday, 3 August 2011

Q44: 'Community Centre' or 'Prayer House'?

Do Doukhobors meet in a 'Community/ Cultural Centre' or 'Prayer House'?


These terms are historically more accurate:
     Community/ Cultural/ Meeting  +  Centre/ Hall/ Home/ House/ Assembly

In Canada the term 'prayer home/ hall' emerged to project a politically correct image, and unfortunately persists. Today the following building names appear on the USCC Doukhobor events lists:
  • BC — Brilliant USCC Cultural Centre
  • BC — Grand Forks USCC Community Centre
  • BC — Creston Doukhobor Prayer Hall
  • BC — Krestova Doukhobor Prayer Home
  • AB — Doukhobor Prayer Home, Lundbreck
  • SK — Canora Doukhobor Prayer Home
  • SK — Kamsack & District Doukhobor Prayer Home
  • SK — Saskatoon Doukhobor Prayer Home (photos)
Why did some Doukhobors change from 'meeting' or 'community' to 'prayer' though they are not an organized religion? To conform to social norms as a religion? To be exempted from taxes? Whatever the reason, in my opinion they are in error.

Historically Russian sectarians were forbiden by the Orthodox Church and government from holding religious gatherings or building churches. Instead they held 'meetings' (Russian: sobranie) in private homes (dom), or community halls or spaces. The gathering of people was all that mattered, not the location or building. When Doukhobors were concentrated in the Caucasus with other sectarians and allowed more freedom, they were permitted to build administrative centres and community homes (obshchie dom) for meetings. Some of these old community buildings are still in use in the Republic of Georgia.

The use of ‘Community Home’ is a historic fact. During the Golden Age of the Doukhobors under Lukeria Kalmykova (1864-1886), Russian Doukhobors had an Orphan's Home (Sirotsky Dom) which served as an administrative centre for the common good. Singing and prayers took place in a Community Home (obshchie dom) next door. To have set up a separate home of prayer would have gone against their principles. This is because traditionally Doukhobors rejected institutionalized religion, including a special building for that purpose, a designated minister, and the Bible.

I am trying to clarify this history because on June 30, 2011, The North Battleford News-Optimist published a story entitled Prayer home added to heritage site, to which I commented:

I applaud Brenda Cheveldayoff (ower of the Doukhobor Dugout House, near Blaine Lake, Saskatchewan) and her team for continuing to enrich the Doukhobor Dugout House Heritage Site. The new addition of the so-called 'Prayer Home' needs context. Historically Doukhobors had 'Obshshoi Doms' (Community Homes). The concept 'Prayer Home' is a misnomer for the Doukhobors who years back rejected the full institution of the church structure. Doukhobors believe that the spirit of love, beauty and God reside inside each of us and there is no need for churches, priests, ikons and Bibles to make connection to the source. The term 'Prayer Home' was mistakenly used by some of the younger generation in trying to legitimize the Doukhobor movement by calling it a church or prayer home. For historical and conceptual accuracy, let us remember the real context of this story and instead use 'Community Home' for the reference.

In British Columbia most Doukhobors have generally avoided the use of the term 'Prayer Home' and instead have used the more generic term 'Community/ Cultural Centre.' For example, the Brilliant Cultural Centre and the Grand Forks Community Centre, and the Salmo Doukhobor Hall (which recently was sold because of lack of usage). The exception are the Creston and Krestova BC communities which use the title Doukhobor Prayer Home.

In Alberta, a Community Home was built in 1929 in Shouldice which served the Anastasia's Village community until its demise in the 1960s. In Lundbreck, a Doukhobor Community Home was registered in 1955 under the provincial Religious Societies Act with the title 'United Doukhobors of Alberta, Cowley-Lundbreck'. A sign in front was installed as a 'Prayer Home'. Today this building is largely no longer functioning, but remains as a provincial heritage building where meetings are occasionally held. Practically all the local Doukhobors have moved away to larger centres. Many Abertans (including the provincial Heritage Department) mistakenly use the term 'Prayer Home'.

The 7,500 Russian Doukhobors who settled on the Canadian prairies in 1899 in what is now Saskatchewan and built over 60 villages used Community Homes as their place for meetings (sobranie), singing and prayer. The early central Community village of Otrodnoe was displaced by the Doukhobor Community complex of buildings in Verigin, at the site of the new railroad line west of Kamsack. Today that location houses the National Doukhobor Heritage Village Inc. which essentially is a museum with a number of heritage outbuildings that once served the community. The use of the term 'prayer' for their original Community Home (once used as a residence for Peter V. Verigin) is not accurate and not appropriate.

The Blaine Lake Prayer Home north east of Saskatoon was established in the early 1930s under the leadership of Peter P. Verigin; today that building is largely vacant, but is mistakenly referred to by locals as a Prayer Home. The latter is said to be mainly influenced by several vocal 'evangelical' supporters who have left the district years back. Former 92-year-old resident Alice Malloff, now residing in Saskatoon, calls the building that was recently relocated to the Doukhobor Dugout House a 'Museum', not a 'Prayer Home'.

The Saskatoon Doukhobor Society built its Community Home in 1955, but labelled it a 'Prayer Home' largely to accommodate Canadian society. Here, as in other Saskatchewan centres (Pelly, Canora, Buchanan, Langham, Watson and Blaine Lake), the designation 'prayer' was associated with the provincial laws which provided tax exemption for buildings of worship. My research shows that most local Doukhobors today have forgotten their own history and do not know the reason for the mistaken label 'prayer' in their Community Homes.

The context for this question is very important for the integrity of the Doukhobor movement. It is parallel to what has transpired with the Society of Friends Quakers and their rejection of the ‘Church’ or ‘prayer home’ in favour of a ‘Meeting House’. Quakers do not believe that meetings for worship should take place in any special place. This similar understanding for both Doukhobors and the Quakers is fundamental, in my opinion, to understanding who we are.



  1. Gunter Schaarschmidt6 August 2011 at 23:00

    "I suspect the term "prayer" was substituted for "sobranie" as a pars pro
    toto, i.e., the term "molenie" which is commonly in use in the Doukhobor
    communities was substituted for the more generic term "sobranie". This is
    a very common phenomenon in language change."

  2. Fred J. Chernoff14 August 2011 at 11:37

    Thanks so much for your note and your resarch. I enjoyed the various positions and each one is valid. On one of my first trips to Russia I was gifted with a Russian Proverb which reads
    " The Truth is Born in Debate". Hope the best will surface in your pursuits.

    In my book The Gift of Ancestors, I referred to the meeting building at Verigin as "The Doukhobor Dom or The prayer Home". I think this majestic structure needs special attention and can remember flying over it in 1975 on our way to Calgary with our company officials. When asked Who were the Doukhobors, I must admit with my head bowed low, I could not answer intelligently that question. However, I vividly remember seeing from the air this beautiful building as it stood out like a giant brilliant jewel on the Saskatchewan prairie and was a favorite spot for my recreational activities in my growing years. A place with many pleasant memories.

  3. Well written Koozma.

    I agree 100% and keep telling people that. I think this began in Saskatchewan to be sure that these buildings were tax exempt like churches. And now let's turn to another one - Why is a prayer meeting being more and more referred to as a 'service'?

    Who is serving whom? Service usually means communion, another total bugaboo to historical Doukhobors, but I am hearing this more and more! Is this more seeking of public approval and acceptance?
    7 August 2011 03:16