The churches’ price­less lessons

The Glengarry News - - The Opinion Page - News


Staff Mal­colm “Mackie” Robertson graced the pul­pit for a Tea Talk last week on the Churches of South Glen­garry at the Glen­garry Nor’West­ern Loy­al­ist Mu­seum in Wil­liamstown.

Mr. Robertson is a sea­soned United Church Li­censed Lay Min­is­ter of al­most three decades and a na­tive of Bainsville where his fam­ily has lived for more than 100 years. “I’ve al­ways been in­ter­ested in ar­chi­tec­ture, his­tory and the sto­ries be­hind our churches so that’s why I de­cided to do this par­tic­u­lar project,” said Mr. Robertson.

The talk be­gan with St. Lawrence Par­ish. The orig­i­nal struc­ture was built in 1906 and even­tu­ally re­placed with a new build­ing in 1933. The Le­gros fam­ily was so heav­ily in­volved in the church, that when Joe Le­gros was on his death bed, he paid off the church’s mort­gage.

Black Loy­al­ists

South Glen­garry’s free Black United Loy­al­ists “stayed loyal to Bri­tain,” he said. “When they came out with the Amer­i­cans, they helped set­tle the land.” Of the Black Loy­al­ists, very lit­tle is known. How­ever, there was one man, Cato Prime, who was a staunch Pres­by­te­rian and wor­shipped with Rev. John Bethune at the home of Ja­cob Snider. Fol­low­ing Mr. Bethune's death in 1815, Mr. Prime pledged money to hire a re­place­ment min­is­ter from Scot­land. Both Mr. Prime and his wife Cather­ine Bodet were buried on Mr. Snider’s land which is now the St. Andrew’s United Church ceme­tery in Lan­caster where their graves can still be vis­ited to­day.

Reli­gious con­flicts

Mr. Robertson also told tales of the Pres­by­te­rian Dis­rup­tion of the 1800s which made its way from Scot­land to Glen­garry. “Many didn’t want the local lord or the equiv­a­lent of a bishop to choose their min­is­ters, the par­ish wanted to pick their own min­is­ters at their own time,” said the lay min­is­ter. “As a re­sult, there were of­ten two Pres­by­te­rian churches in the same com­mu­nity. One would be a Pres­by­te­rian Church of Canada ed­u­ca­tor, and a com­mu­nity man. He be­lieved com­pletely in the idea of an ec­u­meni­cal com­mu­nity. Not to put one above the other sim­ply to join as a com­mu­nity and wor­ship in what­ever form you wanted to.”

These val­ues can best be seen with Knox United Church in Lan­caster. “Built in 1876, Knox has since had a re­mark­able trans­for­ma­tion from a church to a com­mu­nity cen­tre, in­clud­ing a chapel,” he ex­plained. “One of the things that’s re­ally in­ter­est­ing about that project is that only about a quar­ter of the vol­un­teers tech­ni­cally be­long to the Pres­by­te­rian Church. There’s Angli­cans, Catholics, and non-af­fil­i­ated peo­ple who help out there…Ev­ery fall they have a lit­tle meet­ing and say they have X amount of dol­lars in bank and X amount to give away. In the last few years, they’ve given away around $45,000.” The money has gone to var­i­ous char­i­ties over the years such as The Fa­ther Rudy Vil­leneuve Foun­da­tion, CHEO, Meals on Wheels, and a hos­pice. “So that’s a won­der­ful way to turn back to the com­mu­nity,” Mr. Robertson con­cluded.

Priests and war­riors

There were tales of Fa­ther Alexan­der Mac­Don­ald, who later be­came the bishop, and his good friend, Rev­erend John Bethune, who was also a chap­lain. “Both of them were chap­lains of the 2nd Glen­garry Fen­ci­bles,” said Mr. Robertson. “When Fa­ther Mac­Don­ald was talk­ing to the young men in his com­mu­nity he said: ‘You’re all MacDon­alds, any young men bear­ing the Mac­Don­ald name has to be ei­ther a priest or a war­rior.’ Now where that goes, is that Fa­ther Rory Mac­Don­ald who’s from St. Raphael’s is a chap­lain, a piper and a mil­i­tary man,” he said. “So the story is con­tin­u­ing.”

If these aren’t shared, “they will be lost,” Mr. Robertson em­pha­sized. “So all these funny lit­tle sto­ries, yes they are just lit­tle anec­dotes, but they tell us about our his­tory, our com­mu­ni­ties and the peo­ple who lived there."

De­spite their value, South Glen­garry's churches are at risk. “Many churches can’t af­ford to keep up their build­ings, par­tic­u­larly in some of the town churches where you can’t rely on local free labour,” ex­plained Mr. Robertson. “A farm church, well there's usu­ally some­one who is pretty handy and can fix a door or put a new tin on the roof. But you go into a small town or city church and that be­comes much more dif­fi­cult. So they are fac­ing big cost prob­lems. Some of these churches are in­cred­i­bly ex­pen­sive to main­tain.”

Churches have faced many chal­lenges such as dwin­dling con­gre­ga­tions, shrink­ing rev­enues and ris­ing costs, pub­lic safety and ac­ces­si­bil­ity is­sues, real-es­tate pres­sures, as well as the need to adapt to new forms of wor­ship and chang­ing at­ti­tudes.

“Un­for­tu­nately we are go­ing to lose some,” warned Mr. Robertson. “In the last 15 years, there’s been prob­a­bly at least a dozen churches closed.”

Mr. Robertson hopes that these types of talks and com­mu­nity ac­tion will help in the con­ser­va­tion and pro­tec­tion of her­itage places of wor­ship in Glen­garry.

When asked what his plans for the fu­ture were, Mr. Robertson said, “This year it’s the churches of South Glen­garry; and this fall I will give an­other pre­sen­ta­tion to the His­tor­i­cal So­ci­ety called the 'Churches of North Glen­garry and their unique sto­ries'.”

In­ter­est is al­ready grow­ing for Mr. Robertson's next lec­ture. “I heard it be­fore and that’s why I’m here to­day,” said Wil­liamstown na­tive Robert Mac­Don­ald. “I en­joy his­tory and hear­ing about the churches in the area. Mackie did a great pre­sen­ta­tion. I'm look­ing for­ward to his next talk on the churches of North Glen­garry.”

The mu­seum’s pop­u­lar Tea Talk se­ries is held ev­ery Thurs­day at 2 p.m. dur­ing the sum­mer sea­son. The June 28 lec­ture will be on the “Cen­ten­nial of Women's Suf­frage & Pink Tea,” pre­sented by Joyce Lewis and Keleigh Good­fel­low-The­o­ret.


PEANUT LINE PATCH: Kevin Thomp­son and Andrew Lalonde from South Glen­garry's Parks and Re­cre­ation Depart­ment are hard at work on the old Peanut Line bridge cross­ing over the Raisin River in Wil­liamstown. “Just a patch in the bridge for now. We're...

Mackie Robertson which was an off-shoot of the Scot­tish churches; and the other was the Free Church which ran its own af­fairs.” “Where you find our lit­tle Church on the Hill, there were once two churches: the Cana­dian Pres­by­te­rian and the old...

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