We normally head back to our childhood home a couple of times a year to visit the cemetery and, with luck, some friends. During Covid times, this has been cut back to once. It’s a long trip and hotel availability can be a challenge.
If you remember back, way back, I had written a post called “My Childhood Community“. In the post, I took a Google Streetview walking tour of things and one of the entries was this.
St. Paul’s Anglican Church – An incredible church landmark on Highway 8. You could find the family here every Sunday morning.
We were back “home” a couple of weekends ago and noticed that the church was up for sale. You can see the listing and a few more pictures here.
Growing up, we had a number of churches in town. The Anglican Church, of course, but also two United Churches (Wesley-Willis and Ontario Street, we were married in Wesley-Wills), St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Church, St. Joseph’s Roman Catholic Church, a Christian Reformed Church, a Baptist Church, a Gospel Hall, and a Jehovah’s Witness Church. When I was in Cubs, we would travel as a pack to some of these churches annually to join the congregations for a service.
Things have changed – the two United Churches amalgamated into one building; the Presbyterian Church was sold and I believe became apartments or condominiums, St. Joseph’s was up for sale, and now St. Paul’s is up for sale. At one point, it was speculated that it could be converted into senior’s apartments. Mr. van Riesen hasn’t changed at all but there’s an interesting point raised here since the site was a cemetery at one time.
Of course, thinking about it brought back some great memories. They are crystal clear in my mind but they also may not hold up to a good fact check.
- Choir – at a very young age, my parents had me in the church choir. We had different choir books from the congregation – ours had notes to help us sing. The organist and choir leader had us in for rehearsals on Thursday nights before the service
- Organ – speaking of organs, we had this monstrous pipe organ that had dual-level keyboards, foot pedals, and push/pull controls on both sides. Behind, there were huge bellows to make it all happen. When our organist wanted to, she could shake the entire town
- Ministers – in all the times that I went there, I can remember only two different ministers. Reverand Wenham and Reverand Sharples. I remember thinking when Reverand Sharples arrived that we were getting the whole Anglican experience with his British accent
- Martin Luther King – for some reason I can’t recall, I was at Reverand Wenham’s home when news came on the television of the passing of Martin Luther King after having been shot. I was very young and didn’t fully appreciate it then
- Pews – the first time my wife went to our church, she was taken by the fact that we kneeled on these benches in our pews. It was different in her church. I remember telling her also that we all sat in the same pew (we were #23) every Sunday. No moving around here! Some families had purchased padded seats for their pews
- Church Bell – later on, I became a server and one of the tasks was to go to the entry of the church and grab the big rope and ring the bell on Sunday mornings
- Communion – also related to being a server, I had a chair beside the altar and would assist the minister as the parish came to kneel at the front during Communion. When the church was full, it seemed to take forever
- Location – it comes across in the listing but the property was huge with the front on Ontario Street and the rear on Rattenbury Street. In addition to the church, there was a large hall for gatherings and an upstairs/downstairs for Sunday School and a prep area for the choir. There were closets and nooks everywhere, it seems
- Accessibility – getting into the church from the front was impossible if you had trouble climbing or were in a wheelchair. In those cases, people would enter the back door and walk through to the church
- Church at night – normally, church services were at 11 on Sunday morning. As a choir though, we would rehearse in the evening. In the winter, that means that it was very dark. There were stained glass windows everywhere and the lights from the cars going up and down the street would light them up in an eery manner
- Vestments – both as a choir member and an altar server, we wore vestments which included a Cassock and a Surplice. Early on, I remember wearing a white frill around the neck but they eventually went away
- Balcony – by small community standards, I think it was a fairly big church. But, the congregation must have been even larger at one point as there was also a balcony at the back. I remember going up there once for some reason (probably out of curiosity) and overlooking the church which gave an entirely different perspective
- Growing up – I had the most embarrassing moment as a teenage choir member. It was during practice that the choir leader kept walking up and down the aisle as we were singing and intently listening. Finally, she found out the problem. It was me! I was asked to move across the aisle to join the men in the bass section. Apparently, my voice of an angel had changed. Just a reflection – the bass section is pretty boring to sing
- The heat – in the summer, it could be brutal at times in the heat. In addition to church clothes, the Cassock and Surplice made it feel like being in an oven. No air conditioning here
- Colours – the colours on the altar and pulpits changed with the religious seasons. There was nothing starker though than on Good Friday when the colour was black. There was no organ music either for that service
- Markers – there are some historical markers out in front of the church – Horatio Hale and a Clinton marker. It makes for interesting walking up Ontario Street and reading them
Ah, memories. As I suspect with most people, marriage changes things. My wife’s family went to the United Church and so I moved over. We married there and our kids were baptized in the United Church. Closings have been a reality there – the Wesley-Willis building closed and the congregation moved across town; Gesto United Church is now a single-family dwelling and the Wesley United Church in Amherstburg has been torn down and is now an empty retail space.
I know that the world is changing. Back in the day, no stores were open on a Sunday, for example. Everyone went to church. I can’t help but think that, as a child, you think that that world will go on forever. As we get older, we know it didn’t. We don’t live back at “home” anymore and yet it’s still just a little more than sad to think that this part of it may eventually go away. I just hope that it goes to a good owner.