Aylmer United Congregation holds final service after 196 years of existence
The Aylmer United Congregation, which has been a part of Aylmer for 196 years and hosted regular worship services at Aylmer United Church for over 160 years on rue Principale, held its final service on Sunday October 23. The local church council made the difficult decision to disband the congregation earlier this year after rising maintenance costs and low membership made it increasingly difficult to continue day to day activities.
While the congregation is no longer officially active, the church building will continue to be available for rent as a space for worship and other community activities. An official statement from the Aylmer United congregation reads: “The property will continue to be held by the United Church of Canada for communities of faith and other users in the community.” Some members of the congregation also continue to gather to pray online informally and participate in other United Church congregations. Its individual members remain an active part of Aylmer community life collaborating with other faith groups and community organizations.
History of Aylmer United
The Aylmer United congregation played a significant role in Aylmer’s history over its 196 years of existence. The congregation dates back to 1826 when Methodist preachers from the Hull Mission founded a new congregation at what was then known as Symmes Landing (present day Aylmer). The congregation’s original chapel was constructed in 1827 and still stands today as Canada’s oldest church West of Montreal. The building is currently the headquarters of the Aylmer Heritage Association (AHA) and is located near the corner of chemin d’Aylmer and rue du Golf.
As the Methodist congregation grew, it constructed a new chapel in 1858 at the present site of Aylmer United Church on rue Principale. The site for the new church was chosen because of its location at the highest point of Symmes Landing which lay at the end of Britannia Road leading out of Hull towards present-day Aylmer. Several other Methodist churches were also built in the area including the Centre Eardley church in Luskville (built in 1877) which still serves the Eardley United congregation and was occasionally used by Aylmer United.
In 1925 the Methodist church of Canada amalgamated with the Presbyterian and Congregationalist churches to form the United Church of Canada, the country’s largest Protestant denomination. It was then that Aylmer’s Methodist congregation became the Aylmer United Congregation.
In 1959 the church on rue Principale was destroyed by a fire which only left the exterior walls of the original building standing. Through collaboration with other churches and donations from the community, the congregation was able to rebuild the Aylmer United Church which still stands today and was subsequently expanded as the community grew.
In an interview with the Aylmer Bulletin, Council Chair for Aylmer United, Neil Mabon, explained how the church served the Aylmer community in diverse ways over the years. He said that the church hosted annual events such as a Christmas bazaar, spring sales, spring dinners and fall suppers. The church was also actively involved in many activities with other Christian denominations such as the ecumenical choir, the food bank and the Walking the Way of the Cross on Good Friday. In addition, the church’s rooms were opened at one point as extra space for local high school students to take their lunch as nearby schools had space limitations for their growing student population. More recently the church hosted other community organizations such as the Aylmer Community Theatre and Aylmer’s Girl Guides, something that will continue within the building as a rental space.
Following rising maintenance costs and dwindling membership, the Aylmer United Church council took the difficult decision to disband during a congregational meeting on June 12, “The financial facts were put in front of everyone and the vote was taken. Many people hadn’t been attending so it was an eye opener, and a lot of the eyes that opened filled with tears.” said Mabon.
A final service was held at the church on October 23. Around 100 people attended the final service including previous ministers and other members who had moved out of Aylmer. Mabon said that many memories and lighthearted stories from the church’s past were shared during the service, “That was the great thing about our church – the informality. There were lots of laughs and very little embarrassment.” While holding a final service after so many years was a sad moment, he said that it was still a nice opportunity to gather and see old friends, “There were tears. Good people, lots of hugs.”The service ended with the singing of hymns among which were “One more step along the world I go” and “Great is thy faithfulness”.
Mabon said that some members of the church continue to meet together informally and pray on Zoom. In addition, some members of the congregation have started participating in other nearby United Church congregations and plan to continue to participate in local activities with other Christian churches, “When we walk the way of the cross on good Friday it is an ecumenical thing. We know a lot of the other people and that’s not going to change. The people are still there and it is a very strong community of faith in Aylmer.” He added that Aylmer United church will continue to be a stop for the Good Friday Way of the Cross walk. He highlighted that the members of the church all continue to play an important role in Aylmer community life “We are the church, and we are still around. We don’t have a physical building now, but that doesn’t mean we cease to exist. Officially we no longer exist as a congregation, but the people are still here.”
For more information and inquiries as well as to rent space at the Aylmer United Church residents can call the office at 819 684 5345 or email email@example.com.
Photo caption: The original Aylmer United Church on rue Principale built in 1858 (top left). The church after an expansion in 1912 (bottom left). The present-day church built after a fire damaged the original building in 1959 (right).
Photo credit: Aylmer United Church.