Melville Presbyterian Church Marks 100th Anniversary of Building
BY DENNY SCOTT
While the presbytery has been around for more than 160 years in Brussels, the building which currently holds Melville Presbyterian Church is turning 100 this year and a celebration is planned at the century-old building this weekend.
Originally one of two Presbyterian charges in Brussels, the current Melville Presbyterian church is the third church erected for the organization and has been in use since 1915.
The first building was on an acre of land at the corner of Queen and Turnberry Streets and was built in the mid-to-late 1800s. The land was purchased for $5. In 1872, the church moved to its current site and erected its second building.
After this, however, there is some debate as to what precipitated the need for the existing building.
While historical records state the church was becoming too small, some, including life-time church member Jim Bowman, and his wife Shirley, say a terrible wind storm destroyed the old church.
“It was either a tornado or just very high winds that took down the spire, according to what I was told,” Bowman said in a recent interview with The Citizen.
Regardless of whether the new building was built solely due to the growing size of the church or the growing size paired with the damage of the wind storm, a cornerstone was placed in May of 1914 and, less than a year later, in April of 1915, a grand opening was held to mark the opening of the new church.
The new church, according to history provided by members of Melville Presbyterian, at the time was a 64’ by 93’ structure including an 18’ by 18’ tower that is 65’ high.
The church was heated by steam and lit by electricity and featured stained glass windows, circular pews, a choir gallery and a slate roof.
Both Bowman and Jim Armstrong, another life-long member of the church, said they were surprised at some of that information as most of the village didn’t have electricity until much later.
While a lot of the history of the church is taken from old writings and newspaper articles, last year, some of it was unveiled first-hand.
Last May, a time capsule that was buried as part of the corner-stone-laying ceremony was uncovered, 100 years after it was buried.
“There were books, paperwork, and some souvenirs,” Mary Douma, another long-time member of the church said, adding any other items people may have from the church’s history are more than welcome to be added to the display of antiquities currently under glass in the church’s sanctuary.
Some of those surviving documents will likely make their way alongside some modern artifacts into a new time capsule that is set to be buried later this year according to Douma.
While the building hasn’t changed much in the past 100 years, with the only major renovation Douma, Armstrong and Bowman were able to recall being the addition of an elevator, completed in 1997, the church as an organization has seen a lot of very interesting events.
The first of which the group could recall was the vote as to whether Melville Presbyterian would join the United Church in 1925.
On the same day that the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in Canada voted for union of the Methodist, Congregational and Presbyterian Churches, June 10, a vote was held at Melville to decide whether it would participate in the union.
Of the 397 voting members of the church, only 60 were in favour of amalgamation. Three-hundred and thirty seven votes were cast to stay, but some of those who did vote for union decided to leave the church, including then-minister Rev. J.P. MacLeod.
“That was one-fifth of the congregation, including Rev. McLeod,” Douma said. “Those people leaving for Brussels United Church left 155 families to keep the church running.”
While having just over 300 was tough for a church that, at one time according to Armstrong, had 450 members, it was not the lowest the congregation had ever fallen. Douma said that, currently, the 161-year old congregation has 140 members.
Over the past 90 years, the population of the congregation has fallen, however, there are still plenty of good memories in the church.
Douma, for example, recalls when the church used to annually go to Camp Kintail, near Goderich, in the 1970s.
“There was family camping and a church service up there,” she said. “Our girls were young and had fond memories of that.”
Douma also said, when she was younger, the Sunday school had picnics at Lion’s Park.
“I remember it because we had chocolate milk from Cousin’s Dairy,” she said. “They had a paper hole in the cap that could have a straw stuffed in it.”
Both Douma and Bowman commented having chocolate milk was a rarity in the earlier half of the 20th century.
Bowman’s favourite memories revolved around the church building, including the fowl suppers in the 1930s.
“You would get an ice-cream scoop of mashed potatoes with a sprig of parsley,” he said. “I don’t know why I remember that. I don’t remember the desserts, or the fowl, but I remember the parsley. It was just a thing you didn’t normally get.”
Bowman also told the story of an usher using the collection boxes, one of which can be viewed in the sanctuary of the church, which were mounted on six-foot-long rods to be passed down the row.
After one got caught on an usher’s coat years ago, it resulted in Mary Uyl catching the business end of the box in the head, Bowman said.
“The usher said some things I won’t repeat,” Bowman said with a laugh.”
One of Armstrong’s favourite stories is about the church’s organ.
Originally the organ was at the back of the choir loft, but the organist couldn’t see the choir, so a vote was taken to move the organ 10 feet to the front of the loft.
“That vote split the church,” Armstrong said. “There were some people who wanted it and some who didn’t want to spend the money and it caused some hard feelings.”
Bowman said there was another ruckus caused among the members of the congregation when the second manse was built in 1958. The original manse had been condemned by the church, however, it is still standing now in Brussels.
The newer manse, however, caused a division in the church.
“Some were very upset about that,” Bowman said.
Despite the divisions and moving three times, the Melville Presbytery, which predates the village of Brussels, is still standing strong and invites everyone to come out and celebrate the 100th birthday of its current church at 55 Dunedin Drive on Sunday at 2 p.m.
Church Board of Managers Chair Doug McArter said that there will be no normal morning service and that everyone is welcome to attend the 2 p.m. service.
Former Melville Minister Rev. Caroline McAvoy will be speaking at the event and there will be cake and refreshments after the service.
With files from ‘A Time to Remember’, a history of Melville Presbyterian Church up to 2004 prepared by Jeanne Kirkby.
This story was first published in the April 16, 2015 issue of The Citizen