December provides a great opportunity to participate in many seasonal events in our community. Those who enjoy traditional Christmas music can find it in our local and area churches and sample it across denominations as all churches are especially welcoming to visitors at this time of year. A quick search on the Internet or a phone call to a church office will provide details. For instance, the St. Marys Presbyterian Church invites people to come early to the regular service on Dec. 14 to sing favourite carols. On Dec. 21, the church choir will present a cantata, “Joy to the World,” described as a celebration of carols.
This week’s photograph shows the interior of the Presbyterian Church about 20 years after it was completed in 1881. Major renovations were made in 1967 when the First and Knox Presbyterian Churches combined but this important early picture shows the interior of the building in 1900 with lovely friezes on otherwise plain plaster walls. This ornamentation was the work of a local artist, the gifted interior painter, John Willard. The photograph also shows the original front of the church with the high, centred pulpit and the stenciled façade pipes of the church organ, set within a shallow dome.
A Presbyterian congregation was first organized in St. Marys in 1848. The 1881 church replaced the first frame structure, built just to the east, approximately where the level-access parking lot is today. Although music was an important component in worship, early Presbyterians believed that the human voice was the only suitable instrument for praising God. They allowed no instrument other than a tuning fork for the precentor who led the singing. Several attempts to introduce a melodeon into the sanctuary to accompany the choir were forbidden by the elders. As a comic verse, printed in a newspaper in Scotland began: “An organ! No, it cannot work/Within a Presbyterian kirk.” The verse ended: “An organ, what would John Knox/Have said to such a whistle box!”
But times moved on. As First Church was being built on Widder Street in 1880-81, members of the congregation learned that their Knox Presbyterian rivals on Church Street South were installing an organ in their new church. This led to an almost unanimous vote at First Church to allow instrumental music in the sanctuary. Since then, the organ, upgraded several times and replaced during the 1960s renovations, has contributed to the excellence in church music that the St. Marys Presbyterian Church choirs and directors of music constantly strive to achieve.