BY JENNIFER HOEGG
Kings County Advertiser/Register
Peeling paint, stained siding, rusty grilles covering dirty windows and a mossy roof-- it’s clear Trinity United Church could use some TLC.
Despite the building’s central location at Main and Chapel Streets, the only other morning visitors to the Canning church are a few starlings fluttering around the maple trees shading the back entry.
Stepping inside the 101-year-old structure, there is a musty smell of an unused building, but a gorgeous view. Under the soaring ceiling, stained glass windows glow as if the dim day is full of sunshine.
“The pride and joy has been our windows,” Verna Eaton says, from her pew of 68 years.
Eaton remembers when the congregation was called to service each Sunday by the chimes, walking in the broad front doorway to fill the oak pews. She recalls counting the high ceiling’s tin tiles during boring sermons and 14 years of teaching Sunday school, along with christenings, weddings, baptisms, teas and dinners. “It’s a whole family cycle here. I attended this church my whole life; I was married here, my daughter was christened here and my parents were buried out of here.”
Sitting in the warm light, Eaton expresses regret the Trinity family cycle is ending. After 100 continuous years of regular services, the church has sat empty for a year and June 19 Canning’s congregation will host its final Sunday service. “It’s a bitter day,” she says. “It’s not going to be an easy day.”
Small, rural churches struggle
Very few family events have taken place in the church in recent years, Eaton says. “We have diminished to 23 on a Sunday. That’s the reason why we are closing: we are a dwindling congregation and the membership is getting older.”
The cost of heating, general maintenance, a new roof, meeting new fire codes… the long list of challenges is not unique to Canning, but it’s still a hard decision to make. “This is gut wrenching,” Eaton admits.
She knows other rural churches are struggling with similar problems. “There are others right on the cliff of this sort of thing happening.
“That is cold comfort, but we have had to face reality.”
“Within the United Church it is evident across the country, and also in other denominations, we are not alone in this phenomenon,” points out Rev. Curtis MacDonald, who has shepherded Trinity since 2009.
Congregations are declining, because of “an aging population and a generation or two who has opted out of traditional forms of religious experience,” he says. “We are going through a lot of changes and a new direction.”
Dawn Kirkpatrick flips through the Church’s guest book to find her first visit-- in 1992. The relative newcomer to the congregation is researching and putting together photos, records and memories of Trinity’s heritage for the closing service. A booklet of United Church Women minutes has both women reminiscing. “The church extended into the community,” Eaton recalls, “hosting Brownies, Scouts, Canning school closings.”
Both women say they would like the closing service to be a celebration as much as a goodbye.
“It’s not like the end of the congregation,” Kirkpatrick points out. “We also want this to be a joyful event.”
Facing the future
Change is not new to the corner church. Completed in 1910, the building replaced the Methodist Church built in 1854, which burned down in February 1909.
By February 13 of the next year, the church reopened at a cost of $7500, most of which was raised by subscription from the membership
In 1925, the Methodist, Presbyterian and Congregationalist churches merged into the United Church and Canning Methodist Church became Trinity United with a membership of 150 adults. “We were a very unique setting because few in Canada had all three denominations that were part of the union,” Eaton notes.
Kirkpatrick and Eaton are preparing for another union: “We’re forming a new, yet unnamed congregation with Canard and we don’t know where we go from there. We are looking forward to a renewal.”
Canard’s church is older- built in the 1850s- but in better shape, according to Eaton. “We would like to say there is a light at the end of the tunnel, we’re taking a step forward, forward in faith.”
There are others right on the cliff of this sort of thing happening. - Verna Eaton
MacDonald sounds proud, but sad, of the congregations’ decision after “lengthy discussions. It’s a wearisome process but a necessary one.
“The changes have to come from the congregation themselves. It’s not imposed on them.
“They would love to stay in their church, but they find it more and more impossible to keep up an aging building,” he says. “They have shown tremendous courage and vision to take this step. They go marching off into the future.”
And those stained glass windows? The first window – featuring a cross among lilies, with a background reminiscent of a Valley view- was designed by a local artist and donated to the church in 1977 in memory of Thelma Jones, who championed the project. Five other windows were added between 1977 and 1983. All six will be placed into storage this summer with other Trinity treasures to await future plans of the new congregation.
The building belongs to the United Church; trustees will have to deal with the property after the amalgamation of Trinity and Canard takes place.
“It’s a beautiful building and could have lots of interesting possibilities,” MacDonald says.
Giving up the building “is not without heartache for the congregation,” he adds, “but they realize what has to be, has to be.”
“Since 1854, there has been a building here,” Kirkpatrick says. “For so many, it holds so many memories.”
“But it is a building; it is not the Church,” Eaton points out. “Trinity has served us well, but we have to let her go.”
All are welcome to join the congregation in saying goodbye to Trinity United June 19 at 11 a.m. Refreshments will be served.