The last rites for an 88-year-old church

The United Church in Lake Cowichan rebuilt after a fire but can’t come back from declining attendance

Lake Cowichan United Church members Audrey Towle (standing)

Upwards of 80 people attended the final sermon held at the Lake Cowichan United Church last Thanksgiving Sunday. They came from near and far, family, friends, former church members and community members, to give thanks and to say goodbye to each other and the church that served them and this community for over eighty years.

For most the end came right after the Thanksgiving Sunday service was finished. It was the last time they would sit together in prayer in the church that many of them loved. There were the memories of years of sermons, fellowship, charity events, weddings, christenings and funerals that had taken place over the decades. Until the last sermon, there where those who found it hard to believe that the church would actually close its doors for good. It was a sad day indeed but also a day of new beginnings for many.

There were a small group of church members who found that although they had attended the last service, it hadn’t yet “hit home”, that they had not yet fully felt the loss because there was still business that they had to attend to. There was the final business of physically removing and distributing the entire contents of the church.

There were tables, chairs, an organ and others items of furniture. There were hymn books, choir music scores, pulpit, baptismal font and other religious items. There was also a kitchen full of cutlery, dishes, pans etc., that could be used elsewhere.

The Youbou Church was happy to receive some wall hangings and the church organ which will be repaired then used at the at the Youbou church. The Lake Cowichan Baptist Church was able to make use of several benches, a pulpit lamp and children’s tables and chairs. The church piano went to Pilgrim United Church in Victoria.

Most of the church tables (made of plywood years ago by Walt Haldorson and Jim Peterson) and chairs were donated to the Lake Cowichan Community Hall while much of the kitchen contents were donated to the Christian Education and Youth Camp at Camp Pringle at Shawnigan Lake. Many of the smaller items were donated to the local Kaatza Station Museum including a church crest made many years ago by Walt Haldorson. Several items were returned to those who had donated them. One interesting item was the pulpit bible —given to the church in the 1940s by the Robson family — which is now returned to family member Carol Ann Vessey of Lake Cowichan.

There was also the important job of deciding what to do with the church’s Memorial Fund — monetary donations that were received in memory people who had passed away. It was decided that a memorial brick with the inscription Lake Cowichan United Church 1924-2012, would be purchased and placed at Forest Workers Memorial Park. A memorial bench was also purchased from the Town of Lake Cowichan and placed on Wellington Avenue directly across the street from the church building.

The sum of $3,500 will be donated to the Town of Lake Cowichan to be put towards costs associated with the establishing of  Renfrew Square (a town square project) that will be built in front of the new library and adjacent to the Forest Workers Memorial Park on South Shore Road. The remainder of the Memorial Fund will be sent to the Mission and Service Fund for works worldwide.

As for   “Where do we go from here?”, long-time church member Audrey Towle, — who has decided to attend the Duncan United Church — commented recently “It hasn’t really 100 per cent hit home yet. I feel that we have lost our identity. . .What about the community, the weddings, funerals ?”

Long-time church member Sylvia McMahon was christened in the church in 1947 and later had most of her own children christened there. As a youngster she attended the United Church Sunbeams (part of Sunday school) and CGIT (Canadian Girls in Training  bible study). McMahon — who served as treasurers of the ladies group — plans to take it easy for awhile and attend her grandchildren’s hockey games on Sundays.

One of the newer church members, Irene Ridley of Honeymoon Bay and her husband Peter, attended Victoria’s Gordon United Church before moving here in 2008. At that time, they decided to find a local church in which they would feel welcome, and they found that the first time they attended the Lake Cowichan United Church. “We walked in and there was Audrey,” commented Irene recently. They were made to feel most welcome so decided to join. The next time they attended Sunday service Ridley said  “Everyone (the church members) was overjoyed when we entered.”

The congregation  said, “We were waiting for you.”

“Today we close the door to the past and step through the door to the future,” quipped Towle who, like McMahon and Ridley vow to “take a deep breath, step on through and start a new chapter in our life.”

 

 

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