Cherished church closes

November 26, 2014   ·   0 Comments

“Changes come with the passing of time, church life became difficult and closure finally became necessary.”
– Ann Tupling,
Honeywood United Church
The congregation of Victoria Memorial United Church in Honeywood heard the last strains of the organ rise to the rafters on Sunday, November 16th. A capacity crowd of over 150 congregates attended the closing service to share a tribute to the cherished church that was a part of their childhood, a support in times of sorrow, a place of celebration, and a testament of their commitment to faith and community.
According to the Honeywood Church history, in the early days of settlement, travelling “saddlebag preachers” ministered to pioneers in their homes. In 1856, a structure was erected as an “educational and spiritual home” as settlers came together to build a church, a community and a country. In 1870, it was replaced, and by 1900 a committee was formed for the purpose of constructing the red brick church that stands today. It was completed in 1901, named for the long reigning Queen Victoria who died as the century turned. Decades of fellowship and community building would follow.
The factors leading to the closure of Canadian churches everywhere are numerous and increasingly overwhelming for small rural charges. In 2008, Horning’s Mills United Church closed and in 2011 Badgeros and Maxwell. In the history of Honeywood Church, compiled by Leone and Albert Rutledge in 1985, questions were already arising about the future sustainability of the charge. Change was accepted as a part of life by the stalwart farming community, but its impact was a grave concern for the little church.
As a rural church, a growing number of children were moving away from farming life as making a living became increasingly difficult; the amenities of Shelburne and surrounding towns drew in young and old alike; the impassable winter roads made attendance difficult for seniors who were becoming the main stay of the congregation; the demands of Sunday sports pulled families in different directions; the increase of ‘weekenders’ in the area meant fewer locals were innately tied to church life – all contributing factors noted by Leone and Albert Rutledge.
The congregates also questioned the church’s role in the dwindling numbers and looked for answers– were there enough activities, enough leaders, were the young given enough chances to be involved, were new members made to feel welcome… “Are we doing our part to keep religion alive in the church and community, which our forefathers strove so hard to maintain?” they asked. Thirty years later, despite the love and labour of the remaining members, the distractions of an increasingly secular world closed the church doors and a chapter of history.
Rev. John Neff led the service on November 16th with Rev. Norm Greene giving the reflection: “You are my Beloved;” also assisting were Rev. Jennifer Laverty, Norma Godbold and Penny Squirrell. One of the highlights of the service was the singing of favourite hymns by the large “Reunion Choir” led by Jan Irwin. Marion Webb gave a history of the 42 years of the “Take-a-Break” group and the work they have done for the church and the community. The crowd rose in honour as Honeywood Church organist Mary Lynne Armstrong, the daughter of Leone and Albert Rutledge, was presented with a gift for her nearly fifty years of service.
Although, doors may close and memories may be lost, it should not be forgotten that churches, like Honeywood United, were the heart and soul of the community. The foundation of this country was built on the backs of spirited farm families who brought food to our tables, and once… filled rural churches like the regal strains of the organ – to the rafters.

By Marni Walsh



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