Duff's United Church hosts final service in its 150-year history
It was a very sad day for the members and friends of Duff’s United Church, in Walton as the final service was held and the membership in the United Church of Canada was closed. It was also a day of celebration as a wonderful final service was attended by nearly 200 members, former members and friends of the Duff’s family. The worship and program committee prepared a wonderful service that reflected memories of years gone by and the importance of what made Duff’s members family. The committee consisted of Heidi McClure, Patty Banks, Gloria Wilbee, Glenda Morrison, Marion Godkin, Karen Hoegy and supervisor Pastor Sandra Cable.
Those attending the service were greeted by the strains of music and many of the old favourite songs played by the Duff’s band. Members of the band included Glenda Morrison on the organ, Marie McGavin on the piano, Marion Godkin on the trumpet, Keith Wilbee on the saxophone, Gloria Wilbee on the guitar, Graeme Craig on guitar, Pearl McCallum with mouth organ and Sean Mitchell, violin.
Pastor Cable opened the service with a welcome and announcements. She thanked the band for their music and energy in preparing for the day’s service. A full church of uplifting voices echoed with the singing of the familiar song “Holy, Holy, Holy”. It was so wonderful to hear and reminded me of days long ago when a full house was more common. Following the call to worship, prayer and the joyful singing of “Come In and Sit Down”, memories of Duff’s were shared.
The first to share his memories of Duff’s was Rev. Derwyn Docken who served as minister from 1967 to 1975. When he asked the congregation who had been part of the congregation during his time, about 50 raised their hands.
He said his remembrance of Duff’s was all about family. His story of family began with his acceptance into the family of God and the folks of Duff’s became his second family. He and his family were welcomed into their homes and hearts and became a part of open house, choirs, youth groups, concerts and meetings. The second family was the joy of starting their own family. They had two children and they were royally spoiled by folks in Walton. The manse was a great place to raise children. The third part of family was how they were accepted into the community. The Walton folks found out he loved to play ball and he became part of the Walton intermediate men’s team, they went dancing and he even helped at Huron County Junior Farmers. He said he would never forget the people of Walton as a loving family.
A short note was received from Rev. Charles A. Swan thanking everyone for his time at Walton and wishing everyone the best.
The next to share his memories of Duff’s was Neil McDonald of Vancouver. He recalled celebrating the 150th anniversary of Duff’s back in June. Over the years, six generations of the McDonald family have been part of the congregation and the fourth generation being baptized in the church only a month ago. It has been a strong community congregation, with many among us, and those no longer with us, who have given and received guidance, wisdom, encouragement and help. We can all be thankful for our experiences here at Duff’s. He ended with an old Scottish proverb “Happy are we met, Happy have we been, Happy may we part and Happy meet again”.
A letter was read from Joan Tuchlinsky, Diaconal Minister at Duff’s from 2000-2006. She reports it was hard to pick one memory but offered a collage of memories. She remembers starting Confirmation classes with youth and mentors, enjoying beautiful sunsets while sitting on the manse’s wrap around porch, finding a fresh baked pie on the manse stove following Brian’s dad’s passing, driving a tractor with Campbell Wey, youth campfires, the special privilege of being with families during sacred times of weddings, baptisms, illness and death. Wonderful Christmas Eve services, playing ball, learning about pigs from John Van Vliet, but mostly she remembered the kindness, humour and hospitality of the members of Duff’s.
Pastor Cable then read a letter from the Brussels Ministerial Group. They expressed their regrets in our closing and wished everyone well in the next chapter of our faith journey.
The hymn “Joyful, Joyful We Adore You” was sung between the next remembrances.
The congregation welcomed Rev. Bonnie Cole-Arnal to reflect on her time at Walton arriving 30 years ago in 1985. She raised three lovely daughters, Liz, Barb and Sarah and married her husband Oz and the community celebrated with her. She would describe the community as a group that lived by the motto “work hard, play hard and eat well”. That motto extended into the life of the church. People worked hard to be the presence of Christ in the community and in the world, shared freely of their gifts, enlivening worship with music and other talents and broke bread together and ate well at countless church suppers. She wished everyone well in the new opportunities ahead.
The next church member to share his memories was Keith Wilbee. Keith recalled his days at Sunday School in the 1960s when Sunday School was held an hour before church. He was in an all-boys class, and there were many high-spirited pranks. Martin Baan was the superintendent and he delivered a sermon before class. Jean Bewley, the neighbour was the leader of Mission Band. He recalls Dave Baan and himself sneaking out to play tag. They were caught by Margaret Craig, but she never told their parents! He praised the efforts of the church women who went to Ronald McDonald House to prepare a meal there and said he was honoured to be a part of it.
He recognized Sarah and Sean Mitchell being in attendance at today’s service and gave his best wishes in her continued recovery from a car accident months ago.
Rev. Randy Banks had a three-fold duty as part of the final service. First he recalled his memories of coming to the Walton -Bluevale Pastoral charge from Manitoba in 1992 until 1996. The first thing he noticed was that the pulpit was not at the front of the church, but at an angle. Why would that be? He recalled the quick thinking of Phyllis Mitchell in putting out the fire that started on the communion table. He remembered how the Walton Public School and the church worked back and forth using the building for concerts and picture days. He recalls the community support and the full church when his son’s funeral was held. Many good times and some sad. This is the third church closing he has been a part of in the last three months.
Randy then read a letter from Patty Banks on her memories. She recalls being picked up from the airport by Graeme Craig and when arriving in Walton thinking “there’s not much here”. Then when she saw the beautiful church and manse, she was wowed. That Sunday, she heard Donald McDonald sing with the most beautiful voice, “Jerusalem” and knew they had to move to Walton. It was so far from her family in B.C. and it was hard, but the congregation became her family. She has sung for the congregation, and preached and prayed, through the worst times of her life and the joyous times of her life. She thanked all for being her friend and family.
Rev. Randy then presented the children’s story. He had brought along a small child’s chair. He had purchased it from the closing of his own original church. He felt it was a tangible memory he could hold on to and hoped that we all can find something tangible to hang onto from our memories of Duff’s. He concedes that it is easy to feel God’s presence in such stately buildings, such as Duff’s, but it is only a building, and when we gather in one place, we are gathering with God.
A special presentation was then made to Michael Craig. Michael has folded the bulletins for the Sunday church service for many years and Gloria Wilbee presented a gift to him in appreciation for his years of service.
The congregation was then privileged to enjoy Graeme Craig sing the very special hymn “How Great Thou Art.” Graeme has sung at Duff’s for over 50 years and his voice will be missed by all.
Memories of Duff’s resumed with Rev. Gail Clarkson, who started her ministry journey at Duff’s, with Joan Tuchlinsky in the fall of 2006 until the spring of 2007. She recalls learning how to celebrate life, and acceptance of others and how she was welcomed. She told the story of how in bad winter weather she went into the ditch on her way to Bluevale and a good samaritan took her to Bluevale church in time. She was welcomed with grace and warmth and hospitality during her time in Walton.
Rev. Ed Baker, who was minister in 1975-78, said he remembered thinking how beautiful the church was and how the people were so friendly and welcoming. He pitched into the work of the church peeling potatoes or whatever help the ladies needed. He recalls Moncrieff United Church closing during his time at Walton.
Neil McGavin shared his memories of his growing up at Walton church. He said the building has brought many great memories to the community and now we have reached a fork in the road. Neil encouraged all to keep the faith and still look after our friends and neighbours and carry on down the fork in the road.
The final remembrance was from the last minister at Duff’s United Church, Rev. Peter Kugbe-Nyande. He served from 2009-2014 and is now serving in Alberta. He enjoyed his time in Walton and interacted with all. He enjoyed visiting people’s homes, contributing to The Citizen, having fun at the sugar bush, motocross, backyard gardening, bike riding and breakfast at the Walton Inn. He was proud of our community’s contribution of the construction of a school in Sierra Leone and his personal education. He wished everyone well and that God may enrich us in our ongoing spiritual journey.
The message was given by Jo-Ann McDonald entitled “Blessed are We”. At Duff’s United we are all feeling a bit down these days. The closure of the beautiful building and the congregation disbanding has caused many to feel lost. What did we do? What could we have done differently to avoid the closure? There are no easy answers, no miracles and no one to blame. But we should not dwell upon the negative, but remember the blessing the congregation has had.
We are no different than Jesus was when he was taken into the wilderness and was tempted by the Devil. Jesus was tempted by hunger, he was tempted to save himself and he was tempted by the offering of all worldly goods. But Jesus rebuked Satan and said to him “as it is written – you shall worship the Lord, your God and serve him only.”
We are like Jesus in that we are heading into the wilderness and are now being tempted. Tempted to lose our feeling of belonging, of losing our church family, of losing our connection to our community, of our place of worship. We are going to have to move to a new place of worship, a new community and become part of a new faith family. But many will find that it is a difficult thing to do, and many will be tempted to give up their church membership and faith. But just because changes are ahead for the Duff’s family, we need to have faith in what is ahead and be thankful for how we have been blessed.
As a congregation we have been blessed with many wonderful ministers that have led us through our spiritual journey.
A standing ovation was given for the very emotional final message.
The Duff’s Church Band played during the receiving of the offering taken by Teresa Baan, Brian and Neil McGavin and the final offering hymn was sung. The final hymn was “We Shall Go out with Hope of Resurrection”. This was followed by words from Rev. Gary Clark, the Chair of Presbytery and the official words of closure. He gave grace for the lunch and social time to follow the service.
The blessing was the beautiful rendition of Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah” with words adapted by Gloria Wilbee and Glenda Morrison. It was performed by Gloria, Glenda and Sean Mitchell. A moment of silence and the joining of hands while softly singing “Hallelujah” and the final “Amen” of Duff’s United Church closed the service. Jamie Mitchell performed “Amazing Grace” on the pipes while the congregation departed the sanctuary. A lovely luncheon was supplied by the ladies of the UCW and a time of visiting among the many visitors completed the afternoon.
The fate and business of the church is now in the hands of the trustees, who received direction from the congregation a few weeks ago. We wish the trustees, Neil McGavin, Jim McDonald, Karen Hoegy and Graeme Craig, God’s guidance and wisdom in the difficult days ahead. May God guide us all in our faith journey as our days at Duff’s are over. God Bless All.