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Free gas is public service for church

Rachel Augustine couldn't believe what she was reading, but she drove up...

Rachel Augustine couldn't believe what she was reading, but she drove up to the No. 3 gas pump anyway and waited for the punch line in what she thought was a gimmick.

"Free Gas. Yes, It's Really Free at Conoco," read a sign that a gangly group of young girls struggled to hold up as cars whooshed past them Saturday on U.S. 285.

Yeah, right.

When she got to the pump, Augustine was shocked beyond words when she realized that she was actually going to be given $5 worth of gas for free.

"Nothing is for free," Augustine insisted.

Len Billings, pastor of the Elk Creek Community Church, told Augustine to put her purse away.

"This is just a way for us to say hello and let you know that God loves you," Billings said as he gave Augustine a business card with directions to the church.

The 15-month-old church concocted the free gas event as a nonthreatening way to share their Christian faith with residents of this mountain-nestled community where church members said geographical isolation often results in spiritual emptiness.

It was also a good way to recruit new parishioners to this young church with membership of about 150 on any given Sunday.

The church has been holding services at the Platte Canyon High School auditorium in Bailey for the past month since relocating from Dear Creek Elementary School about 15 miles away.

"People think the church is always out with its hands open," Billings said. "But this is a no-strings way to introduce people to the Lord. If they see us actually living out the faith of Christ, they may come and check us out. If they don't, that's fine, too."

Augustine was one of more than 200 people on Saturday who came to the gas station and left about 3 gallons richer without ever having opened a wallet.

From motorcycles and big trucks to medium-sized four-doors and even boats, they all received their $5 worth of gas, plus window washing from about six kids so small that several had to stand on tires to reach the windshields.

In just two hours, the church gave away $745 worth of gas to 149 cars. The church had raised $1,000 for the event, and any leftover cash will be used to fund another giveaway next month. The group has already handed out free road-side soda pop and sunscreen at a local ballpark.

Volunteers waved the signs near neighborhood side streets so they could service Bailey residents rather than draw in metro-area motorists from the main highway. But word quickly got around that free gas was for the taking.

Sometimes as many as a half-dozen cars patiently waited for their turn at the pump, while customers from several nearby businesses came out of the stores to witness the unusual event.

"This is unreal," said Teri Williams, on her way from Aurora to go camping. "Gas is such a necessity, and it's so expensive. It's so good for a church to say, "We are here for you.'"

Bea Larson, the Conoco store manager, said she was surprised by the large number of people who came into the store expecting to be forced to donate to the church or a listen to a lengthy hell-and-brimstone sermon.

But the only thing most of them heard was a pleasant invitation to today's casual service called "Sneaker Sunday."

Hydro, gas bills to be separated

B.C. Gas Inc. and Ontario-based Enbridge Inc. have formed a limited partnership ...
B.C. Gas Inc. and Ontario-based Enbridge Inc. have formed a limited partnership to sell full customer management services across the country that will include meter-reading, billing, call centres, credit and collections, e-commerce and field-work appointments.

An estimated 775 Enbridge employees and 140 B.C. Gas employees will be transferred to the new company, CustomerWorks Limited Partnerships, when it begins full operation Jan. 1, 2002.

B.C. Gas customers in the Lower Mainland will receive their bills separately from the new company next spring. Those customers now receive their B.C. Gas and B.C. Hydro bills together.

The new company initially will provide services to more than 3.5 million customers across Canada. Its technology development centre will be in Vancouver.