Historic Sheguiandah United Church holds last service in building

Members, friends and clergy of the Sheguiandah United Church gather in front of the historic building following the last service that was held in the now decommissioned church.

SHEGUIANDAH—With the words, “This building, having been named Sheguiandah United Methodist Church and the Sheguiandah United Church, is now commended for other purposes and is no longer a church in the United of Canada,” 128 years of worship at this country church came to an end at approximately 3:45 pm Sunday.

The decommissioning of Sheguiandah United Church was proclaimed by Rev. Melody Duncanson-Hales as the representative of the Canadian Shield Regional Council within the United Church of Canada.

This decision to end more than a century and a quarter of service to five generations of Sheguiandah area citizens was made by the church’s board, trustees and its small congregational membership following more than one year’s discussion. In recent years, the church has been open only for Sunday services during the summer months.

Sheguiandah United Church was part of the Little Current Pastoral Charge which also included, until about 15 years ago, Green Bay United Church. Little Current United Church remains the only church in what for many years was a three-point charge.

Sunday’s final service was well-attended by area citizens who still had a relationship with the church, or who had during their lives.

During the opportunity for public reminiscences, it was clear the little old church had played a pivotal role in many peoples’ lives.

Gertrude (Batman) Aelick-Cooper said she had spent much of the first 20 years of her life in the church: “I came to Sunday School, taught Sunday School (it was held in the corners of the church: there was no hall then.) I was married here, and my parents and grandparents’ funerals were here.”

Marjorie (Keatley) Collie  quickly added, “Gert’s mother was my Sunday School teacher. I was married here 56 years ago. I think I’m sitting in my grandmother’s pew!”

Tom Batman, raised in the church, recalled his great-aunt Geraldine (Dean) Batman had been the long-time organist, “and when her health was in decline, she convinced my mother, Wilhelmine (Ferguson) Batman to take on the job which she did for more than 40 years. “He added that a cousin, Barb (Ferguson) Cranston was playing that Sunday’s hymns. He also mentioned several outstanding Sunday School teachers, including Shirley Stevens, Ruth Dunlop, Ruby Lewis, his mother and Glen Cannard.

Gail Cronin, Sheguiandah Church secretary, had compiled an extensive history of the church which she presented via Power Point. She had posted a copy of the deed which indicated the church property had been purchased from the Odawa, Ojibway and Pottawatami people for $25 through the Indian Agent of the time. The current church, constructed in 1894, was the second one on the property and Gert Aelick-Cooper recalled that, when she was young, the original building was still on the site. She also noted that her father, who was born in 1889, recalled seeing the current church being built when he was five. Tom Batman noted that two Sheguiandah pioneers, Adam Trotter and Robert Lewis had been instrumental in building the original church and there were descendants of both of these pioneer men at Sunday’s service, including Pearl Lewis and her family and Linda Lee, great-granddaughter of Adam Trotter.

Gail Cronin said the current pews were acquired in 1912 for 75 cents a linear foot “for church seating,” and observed this price did not include the pews’ end pieces. She had also discovered that the pulpit was custom built at around the same time for $9. Tom Batman had high praise for Ms. Cronin’s efforts and in recent years as the tiny congregation struggled with the difficult decision to close the church, noting that this was not an easy task. He also pointed to the enormous contribution by the late Glen and Jean Cannard in maintaining the church property.

Rev. Whitney Bruno is minister for the Little Current United Church Pastoral Charge and began the service with the observation that while this is “a moment of sorrow but is also a moment of celebration.”

Rev. Melody Duncanson-Hales preached the decommissioning service sermon and built on the theme that Rev. Bruno had established.

“I was invited here today to share a message of hope from all your sister churches within the Canadian Shield Regional Council area.” (Which is virtually all of Northeastern Ontario, and part of Northwestern Ontario, including Thunder Bay.)

“Today, we’re grieving and numb. Today, we’re invited to stand with those first disciples,” who were also numb and confused following Jesus’ crucifixion. “But we’re not in charge of resurrection: God is in charge of resurrection.”

“We’re invited to live resurrection now, in spite of the grief. It’s not an end; it’s just a moment.”

“Those who have been nurtured in faith at Sheguiandah United Church, your work isn’t over yet!” Rev. Duncanson-Hales continued. “You are working for Jesus Christ because he is raised.”

“Thank you, Sheguiandah United Church, for your faith and openness and a covenant to the world beyond these doors,” Rev. Duncanson-Hales concluded, prior to her formal decommissioning statement.

As part of the service, Rev. Bruno brought out the old church’s familiar fixtures, following the final communion service on Sunday. These included the cross, the baptismal font, communion set, historic plates and the church’s musical instruments, acknowledging the service each of these had playing in the long life of the little church.

Following the decommissioning, there was a light lunch served at the neigbouring Howland Seniors’ Hall.