News

Surprise! Alberta Has a Church That Pays Homage to Oil

"Our oil is from heaven, so it’s a bit different from oil in the ground, but both are good," one of the pastors told VICE.
May 15, 2020, 3:00pm
The Derrick Church
The church's oil-centric name is a nod to Leduc, Alberta's history with oil and gas. Photo by The Derrick-A Place of Healing Oil (Facebook)

A small Alberta church in Leduc, a city just outside of Edmonton, is staying true to the province’s oil and gas branding by operating under the name “The Derrick: A Place of Healing Oil.”

The building that used to house the parish closed on March 29 after a church with a larger congregation bought the building, so the pastors, a husband and wife, are looking for a new location.

Their original spot had a derrick—a frame that supports the drilling apparatus in an oil rig—with a cross in the middle painted on the window. Droplets of wet golden oil framed the scene as a dove floated above. The slogan “deep calls unto deep” gracefully sat under the derrick.

This should come as no surprise; oil and gas course through Alberta’s proverbial veins. Nearby, one of Leduc’s main streets is named “Black Gold Drive” and a local radio station goes by the name “Blackgold Broadcasting.” A country club in Edmonton close to where I grew up is also called The Derrick, and of course, the city has the Oilers, a formerly successful NHL team that sports a copper and electric blue oil droplet logo. Alberta Premier Jason Kenney has even been spotted wearing an “I <3 Oil & Gas” sweatshirt.

The pastors chose an oil-centric name for their church because it nods at Leduc’s history, said pastor Ria Van Zanten. In 1947, a huge crude oil discovery, known as Leduc No.1, sparked Alberta’s energy boom.

Oil was kind of a pun at first, said Van Zanten.

“Oil comes from deep in the ground and pain comes from deep in the soul,” said Van Zanten. “The name was catchy and prophetic because our parish deals with deep wounds.”

Now, Van Zanten and her husband, Andre, say oil is actually healing their followers. Oil started excreting from the fingertips of two parishioners after they had visitations with heaven, she said.

“It’s starting to occur more and more in the church,” Van Zanten said.

The Derrick is a non-denominational Christian church recognized by the U.S.-based Christian International, led by Bill Hamon. (The Van Zantens were ordained by Christian International in 2008.)

According to Christian International’s website, God sent Hamon a revelation in 1983, urging Hamon to establish an “end-time company of prophets,” who are viewed as foundational to the church. In 1988, Hamon said he experienced “birthing pains” the same night he “restored” and “birthed” the Prophetic Movement.

The Van Zanten’s subscribe to the movement, which informs their church.

“Prophetically, there was always a call in (Leduc) to be a city of healing oil,” Van Zanten said.

“Our oil is from heaven, so it’s a bit different from oil in the ground, but both are good,” she said.

The Van Zantens started ministering after a woman with dissociative identity disorder fell into their arms at a church service decades ago and started weeping.

The couple originally “had no idea” that God had given them the power to heal people, Van Zanten said, but she and her husband befriended the woman, learned more about personality disorders, and decided to set up their church.

Today, the 20- to 25-person parish almost exclusively serves people with personality disorders, Van Zanten said.

"We had people say you'd minister to thousands and thousands of children, so we are ministering to thousands of broken pieces, and those pieces are children," Van Zanten said, before explaining that many of her followers are made up of “thousands of broken pieces.”

Van Zanten said she has consulted with psychiatrists when dealing with some parishioners.

Right now, the church operates online only, partly because they don't have a location and partly because the pandemic has forced everyone to self-isolate. Every night, the Van Zantens host a virtual service instead.

In one service posted online, the Van Zantens sit at home on their respective couches—Andre on a brown leather lawson and Ria on what looks like a faded blue polyester La-Z-Boy—and start the night by reaching their hands up to God in quick prayer.

“Thank you for everything you have done for us...not just in Canada, but in the world,” Andre prays, while Ria cheers, yells “Thank you, Jesus,” and pumps her arms in the air with her hands open.

Dancing on Their Own

They then introduce a guest couple that starts off by acknowledging how the coronavirus has created new ways to minister to “unsaved people” during pandemic-induced isolation.

“They can be ministered to right in their own homes with a cup of coffee or whatever, even with their beer or whatever—even shooting up in the arm,” the wife said. The service lasted for about an hour, with some time devoted to explaining how isolation has created ample opportunity to build and work on the family.

Eventually, the Van Zantens hope to move off zoom and back to in-person services. The Van Zantens didn't reply when asked how their church is funded.

“We are looking for another location right now, because we’d like to minister face-to-face again soon,” Van Zanten said.

Breanna Barrington, 27, stumbled upon The Derrick in August while she was strolling around Leduc, waiting for a wedding party to start.

“It was like, ‘Whoa!’” Barrington said. “Me and my partner, we were already talking about how oil is a religion in Alberta.”

Barrington, who grew up in Alberta and now lives in Edmonton, said the province’s fixation with oil and gas often “feels like a dystopian novel.” When she learned the church isn’t, strictly speaking, worshipping oil from the ground, she conceded that it feels “less culty,” especially since Leduc has its history of oil discovery.

But “to the outsider, at face value, it’s a bit off,” Barrington said.

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