St. John's closes after 163 years, deconsecration service set for April 30
On Sunday, April 30, at 3 p.m., St. John’s Anglican Church will host its final service, officially deconsecrating it after 163 years as a fixture of the Brussels faith community. Bishop Todd Townshend from the Diocese of Huron, alongside Rev. JoAnn Todd will officiate, followed by a light lunch following the service at the Brussels Legion where historical displays from the church can be enjoyed.
What follows is an abridged history of the church, prepared largely by Anne Cooper and updated by Wardens Michelle Blake and Doug Dale ahead of the final service.
The Parish of St. John’s was born in the summer of 1860. The settlement went by the name of Ainleyville, but church Missionaries were there conducting regular services of divine worship in the Orange Hall on Mill Street. The late W.L. Kerr came from the village of Clinton, followed by his brother John Wilton Kerr, a great-great uncle of Marquerite Stretton (nee Bryans). He was an active Catechist and Lay Reader and may rightly be regarded as the father and founder of the church in Brussels. Despite many difficulties and discouragements, and with the help of his young niece, Ellen Ann Francis, he was successful in building a new church.
In 1864, the first “Little Church” of frame construction was built and consecrated and dedicated with the name of St. John. This building later became the Orange Hall on Thomas Street. Eventually Rev. J. W. Murphy of Wingham came to conduct services, then, in 1872, the Rev. A.J. Lindsay of Huron College was appointed as the resident Incumbent. After six months, he passed away, but before his death he was able to begin services in the Orange Hall at Walton.
The first “Little Church” was just beyond its infancy when the Village of Brussels was incorporated in Dec. 1872. It was in May of 1873 that the Rev. H. Cooper was appointed to the Parish and finding that the church and community were growing in leaps and bounds, encouraged the building of a new, larger church to house the growing congregation. Lot 109 on the corner of Turnberry and Church streets was donated as a church site by the late John Manning, father of George and Herb Manning. St. John’s Church today stands on this site. Construction began in 1875 and completed in 1876 at a cost of $6,000 with only a debt of $1,500 owing.
The church officially opened on Aug. 13, 1876. The following year, 1877, a bell weighing 750 pounds was placed in the tower.
Rev. Cooper left the Parish at the end of 1876 and was succeeded by Rev. E.J. Robinson, who arrived in March of 1877.
Bishop Helmuth visited the Parish on April 25 and confirmed a class of 36 candidates. In 1878, Mr. Caldwell was appointed as Lay Reader. He opened and worked the mission of Henfryn church for three months as an experiment but he was not successful. On Oct. 1, an exchange was permitted by the Bishops between Rev. Robinson and Rev. F. Ryan of Exeter. Some families who had left, returned but the congregation became very divided. They were discouraged and disheartened by the heavy burden of debt that remained after Rev. Robinson left.
In the fall of 1880, darkness fell. This was caused by the Great Chicago Fire. It was at this time that St. David’s church at Henfryn was being built. At St. John’s, Rev. Ryan was succeeded by Rev. W.T. Cluff from 1885-1892 and followed by Rev. W. G. Reilly from 1892-1894. St. John’s was free of debt in 1894.
During 1897 and 1898, plans were being made for the construction of a rectory. The contractor was Tom Newsom for the joint effort of St. John’s, Brussels and St. George’s, Walton.
In February, 1905, Rev. H. M. Lang-Ford was appointed rector of the Parish. In 1909, Rev. Cameron came to the parish and, after a ministry of four years, he was followed by Rev. E. Page.
Rev, Page remained until 1917, at which time Rev. Henry Smith came. He served until 1920. During his ministry, lights were installed in the rectory. From this point on, the tenure of office became shorter, due to a period of decline and harder times. Rev. Roy Mess, Rev. Stanley Johnson, and Rev. W. J. Connor all came to St. John’s between 1920 and 1923.
After this unsettling time, the church closed until March, 1924 and was used by the members of the Methodist church, as their church had a fire.
The church re-opened on May 4, 1924 with the arrival of Rev. Frank Lewin. The church was badly in need of repair at this time. It was wired for power in September of 1924 at a cost of $170, and the Ladies Guild paid $150 for a new furnace in the rectory. In 1929, a new well was dug at the rectory.
In 1929, Rev. Lewin was succeeded by the Rev. F. G. Pickard.
In February of 1935, the Rev. John Graham became the incumbent and served the Parish well until June 1939. He was followed by Rev. W. J. Hendry, who became so ill that he could not perform his duties. Rev. Frank Watts filled in from October of 1939 to November of 1941.
In December of 1941, the Rev. F. W Davis was appointed as the rector and, in order to strengthen the financial position of the Parish, St. Alban’s of Atwood and St. David’s of Henfryn became part of the parish with St. John’s. After Rev. Davis moved on in May of 1942, Rev. E. C. Jennings of London was in charge until Rev. M. F. Oldham came in July of 1942. During his incumbency, the church was redecorated at a cost of $258 and many memorials were added over the next two to three years. In December of 1945, St. Alban’s, Atwood, was transferred to the Parish of Listowel and Rev. Oldham resigned the Parish to take up work at the Diocese of Ontario. St. David’s of Henfryn continued to be part of the Brussels Parish.
On April 16, 1946, the Rev. John H. Kerr became the rector and, less than a year later, the church was completely destroyed by fire. The fatal date was Feb. 25, 1947 when a fire of unknown origin was discovered at 5:15 a.m. and already out of control. All the vestry books and valuables perished in the blaze. The only thing left standing was the tower with its bell and part of one of the walls. Two things were salvaged: the Parish Registers and the Alms basin (the Ross Whittard memorial).
Both the Presbyterian and United Churches offered the use of their buildings and the latter offer was accepted. The United Church members had suffered a similar disaster only a few years earlier.
With undaunted faith and boundless energy, parishioners set to work on the clean-up job. At a congregational meeting it was unanimously decided to rebuild. A Building Committee was appointed with Mr. Harvey Bryans as chairman. Mr. Archie Engel and Mr. William McMurray were in charge of the carpentry work and Mr. Fred Sawyer laid the flooring in the new church. Many members and friends of St. John’s gave hundreds of hours of labour, thousands of dollars and millions of loving prayers to the restoration of St. John’s church.
On July 10, 1949, the new church was opened by the Right Rev. G.N. Luxton, Bishop of Huron.
Since the opening of the church, many memorials had been donated, one of them being a new pipe organ, the first in the history of the Parish, as the previous one had been a reed organ.
Rev. Kerr continued his ministry in the new church until June, 1952, when he left for a Parish in Alvinston. His successor was the Rev. A. N. Ellis, who emigrated from the Diocese of Liverpool with his wife and three sons. Rev. Ellis left St. John’s in 1956 and we welcomed Rev. Jewell from Burk’s Falls.
The last services were held in St. George’s Church in Walton in 1957 and it was officially closed in 1961. The graves from the adjoining cemetery were moved to St. John’s Cemetery.
The next rector, the Rev. K. Jaggs, was appointed in September of 1958. The first Altar Guild was installed in January of 1959 under the leadership of Mrs. J. Pennington. Esther McCutcheon is the longest-serving member of the St. John’s Altar Guild, beginning in 1960, until the present day - 63 years of dedicated service!
During Rev. Jaggs’ two-year incumbency, a stress was laid on the Sacrament of the Lord with a weekly Eucharist and celebrations of Holy Days were introduced. Servers were introduced and a Junior Choir was formed in November of 1959.
The church’s 100th anniversary was celebrated on July 17, 1960. Rev. Jaggs conducted his last service on July 31, 1960. The incumbency of Rev. Henry Leonard Jennings of Lucknow began on Sept. 1, 1960 for the Parish of Brussels, Henfryn and Walton.
On Sunday, July 2, 1961 the parish welcomed the Right Rev. H. F. Appleyard, Bishop of Georgian Bay on his first official visit. At the service of Morning Prayer, the Bishop burned the building fund bank note, with the last payment having been made by Mrs. L. D. Thompson in memory of the late Louis Thompson.
The church was consecrated in July of 1962 by Bishop Appleyard. The Rev. Franklin G. Braby came to the Parish in June of 1966 and remained until 1969. During his stay, the issue of realignment came up. St. Alban’s and St. David’s were connected with the parish of Milverton-Millbank. Brussels was then realigned with Blyth, Belgrave and Auburn. For a short period of time, Rev. Braby served the Brussels church only. He left to take up ministry in Stratford, Under the new realignment, the rector was to live in Blyth.
The Rev. Keith Stokes came to the Parish in September of 1969. He remained until March of 1974. Rev. Stokes was succeeded by Rev. Fred Carson, who started in May of 1974 and departed in 1977. That September, Rev. Dan Sargent was appointed to the parish. Rev. Dan was a young and energetic young man who played the guitar and built up the congregation and Sunday school to new proportions. During his ministry, carpet was laid in the aisles and a new electronic organ was purchased.
In 1978, Michelle (McCutcheon) Blake became the church organist at the age of 18, taking over for Mrs. Bertha Elliott, who had been the organist for many years. Michelle remains the dedicated organist at St. John’s to this day.
In 1979, several meetings were held with regard to realignment with the decision being made for Brussels and Blyth to form a two-point Parish, effective January of 1980. Belgrave church realigned with Wingham and Auburn remained as a satellite of Blyth and Brussels under the ministry of Rev. Cravin, with Rev. Sargent taking the occasional services.
Rev. Sargent resigned from the parish in 1981 and moved on to a church in London. After his resignation, Janet Price-Jones conducted services for St. John’s, with communion services conducted by visiting clergy. Janet continued as a lay reader for Rev. Robin Lyons when he came to the Parish in December of 1981. In spite of the economic times, St. John’s continued to be able to pay its budget apportionment in full each year. During this time, the exterior of the church was painted and a new roof was installed on the rectory. Sewer connections were also made.
Rev. Patt Nunn started her ministry in May of 1986. A youth group had been formed during this time by her. She was the rector until 1989. At this time, St. Mark’s church in Auburn closed its doors after the retirement of Rev. Bill Craven and the church was later demolished.
The year 1988 was a very trying year but, fortunately, by the year-end, all financial obligations had been met. During 1988 and 1989, repair and cosmetic work was done at the rectory and at the church, with all labour donated by the faithful members. Brick and plaster work were done by A.R. MacDonald from Wingham.
Rev. David Fuller commenced his ministry in the two-point Parish of Brussels/Blyth in September of 1989, only staying for two years. Rev. Paul Acton came into the parish in September of 1991 and was there until 1995.
Rev. Acton took part in a special service at the St. John’s cemetery (formerly the McCutcheon cemetery) for the installation of the memorial gates in memory of Harry and Hannah McCutcheon. Jack and Clarence McCutcheon were faithful trustees for the cemetery for many years.
Rev. Nancy Northgrave came to the Parish in 1995. She married Rev. Brad Beale a couple of months later. They had two sons who attended the Sunday school program. Nancy served the Parish of Brussels/Blyth until December of 2000.
On May 1, 2001, Rev. Tom Wilson was appointed priest of the Parish of Brussels/Blyth. He came with his daughter Annissa and was the rector until early 2008. During his time, the church had a small fire on Nov 30, 2003 from an Advent Wreath left burning. Luckily it was noticed in time before it caused major damage. Rev. Tom married Dawn Cornelio in our church in 2006 and eventually he moved on to a ministry in France where his wife was working as a professor.
Rev. Tom nominated four different parishioners for the Bishop’s Award for Excellence in Ministry over the four-year period from 2004 to 2008: Esther McCutcheon, Michelle Blake, Anne Cooper and Marie McCutcheon. After Rev. Tom left, plans were made for St. John’s to become a four-point parish.
In May 2008, Rev. Perry Chuipka came to St. John’s. He was appointed rector of four churches: Brussels, Blyth, Wingham and Lucknow, forming the Parish of New Beginnings. He was at St. John’s every second Sunday, with Peter Zoeller filling in as our Lay Reader. Peter was a faithful Lay Reader from 2008 until 2018.
St. John’s celebrated its 150th anniversary in 2010 with former rector Rev. Keith Stokes as the guest speaker. Sandra Clark was ordained a Deacon at St. John’s in February of 2009 and helped with our church ministry until 2018.
The church rectory was sold in the summer of 2010 to a family and, in 2015, St. Peter’s of Lucknow closed its doors and St. John’s became a three-point Parish.
Rev. Perry moved on to a new Parish in October of 2015 and the parishioners were happy to have retired Rev. Allan Livingstone from Goderich as the interim minister for the next two years.
Rev. JoAnn Todd came to St. John’s in January of 2018 and St. John’s became part of the Regional Ministry of Hope, a four-point Parish once again with Hanover church joining in. However, Hanover closed its doors in 2019.
With the COVID-19 pandemic striking in 2020, the church was closed and re-opened a few times over the next two years. Services were posted online and the congregation felt the financial and physical effects of the pandemic on the life of the church. St. John’s Parish would have celebrated its 160th anniversary in 2020, but this was not to be.
The last official worship service was held on April 9, 2023, Easter Sunday, and the final, deconsecration service will be held on Sunday, April 30 at 3 p.m.
Copies of the church’s full history will be available at the Brussels Legion after the service by donation.