Academic journal article Manitoba History

Place and Replace: Church Union and Church Buildings in Manitoba

Academic journal article Manitoba History

Place and Replace: Church Union and Church Buildings in Manitoba

Article excerpt

Church Union, the merging of Methodist, Congregationalist, and Presbyterian denominations into the United Church of Canada in 1925, was, in part, a response to the desire of churchgoers in small prairie communities. Therefore, the historical consensus has been that church union was relatively uneventful in Manitoba, Saskatchewan and Alberta, when compared to the conflicts present in other parts of Canada. An examination of congregational histories reveals, however, that at the local level amalgamating congregations could be disruptive to faith communities.

The way the Presbyterian and Methodist congregations in Boissevain effected amalgamation demonstrates the challenges involved in merging two religious communities. A committee of ten people, five from each congregation, devised the plan. The Methodist church building would house the amalgamated congregation, with the Presbyterian order of service and hymn book being used. Everyone in the amalgamated congregation would feel the familiarity of being at home--either in the physical space or in the worship style--and the disequilibrium of being a stranger--either because they were not at home with the liturgy or because the building was new to them. The leaders of both congregations resigned and both ministers were let go. The combined congregation would elect new leaders and call a new minister. In such a merger, the newly amalgamated church replaced the churches that had been.

Not every Presbyterian, Methodist, and Congregationalist congregation found another church to amalgamate with, but many did. In the decade prior to official church union, 130 congregational amalgamations took place in Manitoba; in the year following 10 June 1925, another 50 church mergers were completed. Most early mergers took place in small communities or rural areas. In mid-sized communities like Dauphin, Minnedosa, and Carman, churches often did not amalgamate for two or three years, or even longer, after church union. In Winnipeg, while all but two of the 21 Presbyterian congregations in the city became part of the United Church of Canada, none amalgamated with another congregation in the year following church union. Given the different speeds at which congregations amalgamated, it is more accurate to talk about a series of local church unions, rather than a singular one.

Following an exploration of local church mergers, this article turns to discuss the new congregations that arose in resistance to church union before concluding with an exploration of how congregations disposed of buildings they no longer required.

Pre-1925 Congregational Unions

The desire for union was motivated by a variety of things. Some lay leaders believed bringing two small groups of people together into one larger group for worship and work was a good thing. Larger numbers meant more things got done. More people in a single building was economically efficient, one building to maintain and heat, not two, one minister to support, not two. Two years after entering their local church, the leadership of the Union Church of Cypress River described their experience this way:

   We believe we can better serve the Interest of
   God's Kingdom by continuing therein; thereby
   prompting a larger fellowship and Christian
   brotherhood in the district; doing away with
   denomination prejudice and narrowness; and by
   a more economical manner of financing, place
   ourselves in a position to give more largely to the
   other enterprises of Christian work.

Congregational leaders saw their experience as an example of what could happen when denominational divisions were torn down. The congregation, confident of its place and future as a united congregation, hired a Winnipeg architect to design and build a new church building. The "impressive" structure was completed in 1921; the new building becoming visible witness to the "impressive" results of local church union. …

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