The Williamsburg United Church will take its final breath as a church this Sunday, May 13th when congregants join for one last service in the historical building.
In January 2012, the church was listed for sale. Not quite three months later, in March, the congregation voted to accept a conditional offer of purchase. The condition required the property to be rezoned to permit residential.
A zoning bylaw was passed on April 17th. Following the standard wait period, the sale should become final and the new owners will be able to turn the church into a home (or homes, as it was rezoned to include the possibility of a duplex or semi).
While it is impossible to know exactly what the church will look like when its eventual transformation is finished, it seems like now might be a good time to take a look back at its history.
A brief history of the Williamsburg United Church was printed in the January 23, 1980 edition of The Leader as part of the Churches of the Area series.
To be clear, the history of Williamsburg United Church is lengthy, detailed, and includes the coming together of many different congregations from many different faiths and churches.
Right now, however, it is the church building itself that is being disbanded and so it is a history of this very old, very unique building that will be the focus here today.
In the early 1800’s, the tiny village of North Williamsburg was comprised of mainly two denominations, the Lutherans and the Presbyterians. These two religious families chose to unite as one in 1827.
In 1866, after more than 40 years of worship, this group constructed a stone church which they christened St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Church. This stone church would eventually become what is now the front portion of the church building.
Then, in 1877, 50 years after the Lutherans and Presbyterians united to form a new group of Presbyterians, disagreements divided the congregation in two.
Members who chose to leave the church, calling themselves the Free Presbyterians, eventually built their own church in 1882. The ‘White Church’, as it was known then, became what is now the back portion of the church.
In the early 1890s, the Free Presbyterians rejoined their former church family at St. Andrew’s. Following this physical reunion, the former ‘Free Presbyterians’ sold the ‘White Church’ to the local Methodists in 1893.
Together again, the large congregation found it necessary, at the end of the nineteenth century, to build a Sunday School for their children and youth. The Sunday School was built at the South end of the stone church.
In 1915, electric lighting was installed in the church.
In June of 1925, the Methodists of Williamsburg joined the Presbyterians. It was then, in 1925, that the Williamsburg United Church was born. The stone church let go of its former identity, St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Church, and embraced its new one, the Williamsburg United Church.
These Methodists were comprised of congregations from Williamsburg, Hoasic, Grantly, Winchester Springs and Elma.
In 1926, the side doors in the vestibule were changed and a double door was made in the entry, opening onto the centre aisle of the church. These side doors and double door entry are, for the moment, still intact today.
Finally, in 1928, the ‘White Church’ took its final resting place in what is now the back half or the hall portion of the Williamsburg United Church.
The ‘White Church’, moved across fields to join the stone church, replaced the former Sunday School hall. For the move, the church was raised on rollers, then slowly drawn by one horse on a ‘sweep.’
Once installed at its new location, it was redecorated and a kitchen was added in 1930.
By December 1968, sufficient funds had been raised to begin construction of a new kitchen as well as a vestry. Both remain part of the Williamsburg United Church today.
In 1975, the United Church of Canada celebrated its 50th anniversary. On May 20th, members of the Williamsburg United Church marked the occasion by planting a blue spruce ‘memorial tree’ in the church yard.
By 1980, United Church congregations from Elma and Calquhoune had joined the congregation in Williamsburg.
This church has endured over one hundred years of changes. The front portion, known as the ‘stone church’, is 146 years old. The back portion, known as the ‘white church’, is 130 years old.
Today, in 2012, the Williamsburg United Church is about to undergo one final change: it will retire from worship and settle down to family life.
On May 3rd, at 5:30 p.m., much of the Williamsburg United Church’s contents were auctioned off, including pews, piano, organ, dishes, Bibles, and so forth.
During the building’s final service on May 13th, guests and members will gather in the empty sanctuary to say goodbye and close the door on that chapter of their history.
While the building itself is signing off from official church duty, the Williamsburg United Church will go on in spirit through its congregation. For now, they will gather at the former Elma Public School, Sundays at 10:30 a.m.
Retired Reverend Ralph Taylor, who joined the Williamsburg United Church earlier this year, told them: “we’re like the people with Moses; we’ve gone out in the wilderness.”