Reinventing the United Church


Change is in the air for many of the United Churches within the Seaway Valley Presbytery.

Presbytery Chair, Wendy Wright MacKenzie revealed that last year the Seaway Valley Presbytery received “a number of requests from the people in the pews for help in addressing over-all declining membership.”

“We realized that the people knew their community better than anyone else,” said Wright MacKenzie, “and so in January 2011, 85 people gathered to dream about what the church might look like in a changing world.”

“In March 2011, over 800 people gathered at North Dundas High School for a vote to divide the Presbytery up into districts in order to continue a process of visioning and change. There was an overwhelming YES vote.”  

“Since that time, the congregations have been doing self-reflections and analysis. By November 28th, all congregations within the Seaway Valley Presbytery voted on whether they wanted to be in conversation with other churches to discuss possibilities for the future,” she continued.  

“At this time, we have 13 churches already in conversation, visioning and dreaming of what it might look like when following a different model of being ‘church’.”  

Iroquois United Church Reverend Janet Evans revealed that the “Iroquois United Church has a team of four people who will be meeting with some local churches – Brinston, Hulbert Valley, Williamsburg – to see where we might go from here.”

 The United Church in Williamsburg was recently listed for sale. The congregation, like so many  others, has grown too small to manage the upkeep of such a large and outdated building. 

Retired Reverend Ralph Taylor recently joined the Williamsburg United Church to help the congregation through the upcoming changes.

Taylor said that he is there on a renewable six-month contract, but will stay “as long as it takes.”

As for the decision to sell the church in Williamsburg, Taylor admitted that it wasn’t an easy choice to make for the congregation. “Some are more excited than others and some are anxious,” he said.

“The congregation is getting older and the cost of maintaining (the church) means they’d just be focused on maintaining, not on missions,” said Taylor.

He admitted that the choice is ‘heart wrenching’. “But what other choice do we have at this point?”

Currently, Williamsburg’s United Church congregation is meeting at the J.W. MacIntosh Seniors Support Centre on Sundays.

The congregation will return to the church in March, if it hasn’t sold. When it does sell, the congregation will seek an alternative location in the area.

Taylor admitted that “eventually they’ll be joining another congregation, but it will take a little while.”

With this news, comes the question of what will happen to the many other United Churches within South Dundas. How will they fare in the months and years to come?

According to Evans, “people from Iroquois United Church are both excited and nervous about the changes that will inevitably come our way.”

“Iroquois United Church, for example, has been able to support a full-time minister which means that the present minister has time to care for all of the shut-ins who are associated with our congregation,” she explained.

“Perhaps more people will have needs when several churches work together under a new model. Lay people may have to undertake more of the church’s work.”

“No one really wants to lose their building but that may or may not happen under a new structure,” she said, adding, “new structures could mean, however, more people coming together to offer their gifts and talents in God’s service.”

Wright MacKenzie said, “we realize that everything in life changes.” 

“The way to experience our worship needs an extreme makeover,” she added, pointing out that “the world is changing and so we have to look at new ways of what it means to reach out to the community. The way we ‘do worship’ does not appeal to the younger generation so we need to also look at some other options.”

“This is still very much a work in progress so it is exciting to see what the congregations come up with as they talk together.”

“Change is always somewhat nerve wracking but God will be with us as we journey into the future,” reminded Evans.

The Presbytery, according to Wright MacKenzie, will continue to offer help and support in whatever way possible.

As for the years to come, she said, “time will tell what this looks like in the future. This is completely in the hands of the people in the pews.”

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