It has been the centre of the community, but after 161 years – 135 of those at the corner of Mandaumin and Confederation Lines – the familar and unique United Church building is about to close its doors.
The congregation will hold its last service June 26, but not before opening its doors to the community one more time.
Cathy Young, Al Scott and Keith McManus are three long-time members of the church. They also have the unenviable task of closing its doors.
The congregation began meeting down Confederation Line in a schoolhouse near the Dunlop property in 1842. In 1859, the congregaton moved into the village of Mandaumin and built a wood frame church across the road from where the unique brick building was erected in 1881 and still stands today.
It was the centre of the community, with rural residents attending church every Sunday and social events such as dinners throughout the year. In the 1960s, the church added classrooms for the 100 or so Sunday School children, a hall and a study for the pastor. But, like many churches, the number of people in the pews on Sunday is shrinking and graying. McManus says the church leaders began talking about closing the building three years ago and finally made the difficult decision this year. “This church was entrusted to us to do what everyone else has done through the years,” he says “but reality comes along and money is about to get tight.We want to shut it down with dignity.”
So, during Doors Open Lambton, the church building will be open to share its colourful past.
On the walls hang the photos of the first families of the church, a missionary couple, sent to Africa by the congregation, who worked in the mission fields for decades and a mural, originally painted by Rev. Earle Waghorne for the massive 75th Anniversary Celebrations. It was renewed by his daughter years later, after fire in a wood-burning furnace in 1956 destroyed the choir loft and damaged the original mural.
Waghorne – who was an inventor and a bundle of energy – also arranged to have new windows for the celebrations which included a high-quality photo in circles in the centre. Those photos have long since gone, but were replaced with stained glass inserts. Waghorne also built an industrial chicken roaster and the 75th anniversary program boasts how a 500 pound chicken pot pie would be served for lunch during the three-day celebration which also included fireworks.
Young, who started coming to the church after she married, says it is the sense of community built by those types of events she will miss when the doors close.
“When I first came here, this church was one place I really felt welcome… It’s the community and people that make a church… You got to see a lot of the neighbours during those other services and special community events… It’s one of the things I’ll miss the most.”