By Mary Smith, Historic St. Marys
On Sunday morning, June 24, 2012, St. Paul’s Anglican Church, Kirkton, held its closing service. Following the final anthem and prayer, the congregation lingered over one final coffee and fellowship time and then left their church for the last time. They took with them many rich memories.
The parish, established in 1862, marked its 150th anniversary on June 2, 2012. For that occasion, Marion Creery, whose family has attended this church for generations, compiled a booklet outlining the history not only of the buildings, but also of the people who made up the fabric of this parish, a great archival record as well as a treasured memento for parishioners.
The first church building, a simple clapboard structure to serve a pioneer congregation, was consecrated in 1864. The current church, shown in this postcard view, was opened in 1901 — a much more permanent brick building with a lovely bell tower and space in an airy basement for parish activities.
And through the years, these activities were many: Sunday School and youth groups, men’s and women’s social and fundraising initiatives (many remember the wonderful annual bazaars), crokinole parties, box lunches, church picnics, spaghetti suppers, great dramas and musical presentations. This parish had extraordinary musical talent: the Pauls and the Blacklers notable among them.
A church in a rural community such as Kirkton was the centre of community life. And in this close-knit village, everyone — Anglican or not — was welcome at special events at St. Paul’s (and special events at the nearby United Church as well).
However, as Marion Creery says at the end of her history, changes began to have an impact on rural life following World War II: “…the area became more affluent, roads and cars improved, the TV became a home entertainment centre and the nature of farming changed … many moved from the country to the urban areas … the focus on the Church community as the centre of social life began to slowly shift.” Regular church-goers were fewer — and older! Many rural churches of all denominations closed.
With an intensely loyal membership, St. Paul’s lasted longer than many others. But the parishioners themselves decided that, if the church could not continue, they would like to control the time and manner of closing. First they held a party: the celebration of 150 years as a parish with an overflow crowd in attendance. This was a vitally important event, allowing everyone to worship together, and then meet, reminisce and gather strength to move on to the final service.
Things must change, of course. But in spite of all the careful and sensitive preparation, the change in Kirkton last Sunday was a difficult one!