The Seaway Valley Presbytery is the first presbytery in Canada to complete an en-masse restructuring.
In 2011, hundreds of church delegates voted to support a process that would support and encourage dialogue concerning the future of local United Churches.
The presbytery includes United Churches in the Seaway Valley from Prescott to the Ontario-Quebec border.
The results of those dialogues are now coming to fruition, with many of the ongoing changes set to take effect July 1, 2013.
The basis of the restructuring is the pressure that all churches are facing due to increasing costs and declining membership.
The bold moves that this region has taken to facilitate change have garnered the interest of many across the country and across faiths.
“We get calls from right across the country, from people who are interested in finding out how the process is going,” said Rev. Wendy Wright-MacKenzie. She chairs the vision and transformation committee of the Seaway Valley Presbytery. “Many, including those of other faiths, are monitoring our model,” she said.
The discussions have been left with the congregations, rather than the governing body (the presbytery), to allow each area to choose their own path forward, explained Wright-MacKenzie.
Some churches, like Morrisburg’s Lakeshore United Church, have opted to remain a stand alone church.
Change for that church will be minimal, however, their minister is moving on, so they will be seeking a new minister.
Others like Iroquois United and Brinston (pictured) -Hulbert Valley United have decided to amalgamate. Through this new union, they will become the Iroquois-Matilda United Church.
It will be a two point charge, under one minister. The Iroquois-Matilda United Church is seeking a minister.
Other models being explored across the presbytery are a regional model and cluster model.
A cluster model involves sharing one new governance. Churches at the west end of the presbytery are in the process of determining if they would like to follow this new cluster model.
A regional model is a fresh start. “In a regional model, churches disband and close, and a new ministry is started,” explained Wright-MacKenzie.
Only one regional church has been formed in the Seaway Valley Presbytery: Christ Church United.
This new ministry is located in the Chesterville United Church building, but the building has been completely changed in order to make it a new space to those moving there from the former Morewood and Chesterville area churches.
Christ Church United is still in discussions with other area congregations, including the Williamsburg congregation, which presently holds services at the former Elma School location after selling their church building.
Wright-MacKenzie explains that this regional model is one that is generating much excitement among its parishioners.
“The difference between amalgamation and what is happening here, with a new ministry, is that people are encouraged to get rid of the tangibles and to embrace letting go. Church is not the building,” she said.
“Churches generally have key leaders. When you go to a regional model, this puts all of their energy together. And, when you do that, something exciting blossoms,” said Wright-MacKenzie.
In a regional church model, one minister does two services on Sunday.
There is more lay-leadership, pastoral care is shared with the people in the congregation, study groups are led by trained lay-leaders, and a central youth group is formed. Resources, such as music are shared.
“We are looking at ways to meet the needs of the community,” she said while the congregation explores new ways of worshiping differently, together.