A New Church in Welland
Originally part of a circuit ministry served by Rev. Keogh and Rev. Whiting, nine congregations formed the beginnings of our church community. The circuit included meeting places at Port Robinson, Merrittsville (later renamed Welland), Wainfleet, Crowlandville (now Cook’s Mills), Lyon’s Creek, Point Abino, and the private homes of the Learn, Graham, Misener, Ramden and McAfee families.
On August 2, 1862, under the leadership of Rev. Joseph Reynolds, the “Welland Methodist Church,” the first Wesleyan Methodist Church in our city, was built on the north side of East Main Street, between Burgar and Hellems.
Known as ‘the white church,’ it was here that our community began to gather. A house was later bought on East Main Street as a parsonage at a cost of $1000. In 1872, the church was renovated to double the seating and add a tower and bell.
Our Historical Bell
The bell which called people to worship was forged in the Meneely Foundry in West Troy, NY in 1872. It began its life as a warning bell, helping to warn ships of the harbour’s mouth at Port Colborne. At the advent of the foghorn, the bell fell into disuse, so it was picked up by Samuel Gilchriese and driven by horse and sleigh from Port Colborne to Welland, where it was installed in the East Main Street Church.
This bell followed the congregation to their new home on King St, upon the building of a new church. It still calls us to worship today, these many years later.
Growth and New Decisions
This white church on East Main Street had served the community for more than twenty years when it was decided that the church building was not large enough to sustain the congregation.
Thanks to land donated by the Morwood family, plans were made to move the congregation to a new church home, where it stands today on King Street.
Welland Methodist Church is built
Built by Mackus Vanderburg, the Italianate style church, known as the Welland Methodist Church, was dedicated by Rev. Dr. John A. Williams on December 17, 1882. The church was finished and furnished for a total cost of $12,000; $3,000 of which had to be carried by a mortgage. Pews were rented for the price of $2.00 or $3.00 a year, while a security guard was hired for $0.25 per Sunday night to prevent the theft of whips and blankets from buggies parked for evening worship. Rev. Dr. George Clark was the first minister appointed to serve the congregation in the new building. In less than three years another congregation of Methodists in Welland, the Episcopal Methodists, from the north end of Denistoun Street, united with the Welland Methodists.
The church continued to grow. Records of the early years are somewhat meager, but a couple of sentences from an annual report tell volumes:
The year that has closed was one of peace and progress. Fifty-four names were added to the roll of members, which now totals 417.
In the week of June 9, 1907, a spark from the burning warehouse of R. Moore & Sons, lit on the church roof. Fire damage was slight, but the whole building, inside and out, was water soaked. Roofers, painters, and decorators went to work immediately. The Jubilee service of June 16, 1907 had to be held on the church lawn. The church was reopened in August when an almost-new building had been erected. Then, misfortune struck again. On August 6, 1907, while municipal employees working on King Street were parking the street roller for the night, they inadvertently drove it across the gas main at the front of the church. One of the traction spikes of the roller punctured the gas pipe. The resulting explosion and fire demolished this fine structure leaving only the bell tower and foundation walls standing by nightfall. The City paid $11,669 in damages, with the new church costing over $19,000.
The Church was rebuilt on the same foundation walls reflecting both the style and character of the original structure, with the initial contractor taking part in the rebuilding process. The cut stone foundation of broken coursing rises to a height of approximately eight feet where it meets the orange brick walls. A continuous stone band runs around the church dividing the foundation from the brick portion. The original bell tower and enclosed staircase were retained.
During the time of rebuilding, the congregation used the Opera House in the Independent Order Of Foresters Building, East Main Street. In planning to rebuild the church, the decision was made to enlarge the balcony so that the seating capacity of the church could be increased. As a result of this decision, higher walls at the front of the building were necessary, increasing the height in the gothic offset on the southwest corner of the church. This also gave the church opportunity to install a large coloured glass window to add to the beauty of the balcony and sanctuary. The entrances to the church were also changed. Instead of using the front doors at the north and south front corners, a stone vestibule was created on the front of the building. Inside the sanctuary, the rafters were set at a 60o angle and were framed to give a wide flat deck in the centre. The spacious height gives the sanctuary a splendid acoustic that is hard to find in most church sanctuaries. The double-manual organ installed at this time was purchased from the Karn Organ Company of Woodstock. On May 8, 1908, with Rev. Dr. Carman, then Superintendant of the Methodist Church of Canada, the new church was formally dedicated. Just a short eleven years later, on February 12, 1919, the mortgage was officially paid off and burned.
Recent Years…and into the future
The next many years saw the congregation and the church continue to change. The church house, which for many years housed ministers and their families became the nursery and Sunday School rooms, and a new manse was purchased on Church St. Rev. Howard Pentland and family were the first tenants to move in. In 1965, the King Street entrance was rebuilt. In the early 1970s, the offices and Hearth Room were refurbished. During these years, our cross, which figures prominently in our Sanctuary, was donated by Mr. and Mrs. Fred Coyne. Upkeep for our aging building is a never-ending task. In 1984, a lift was installed. In 1991, a steel roof was installed over the Sanctuary. In 1996, at a cost of $75,000, the foundation under Fellowship Hall had to be repaired. Because of this work, the floor was removed and replaced, the room enlarged by removing small rooms at the corners, and a new ceiling, new lights, and a new coat of paint provided finishing touches. In 1997, the Eaton’s organ that was installed in the late 50’s needed dramatic repairs, so a used three manual Casavant organ from Quebec was installed. The repairs and implementation totaled $80,000.
While our church has seen many changes over the years, it was a profound honour to receive the heritage designation on our 125th Anniversary, November 15, 1987, from the City of Welland. They recognized the architectural and historical significance of the bell tower and façade of the church, and its long history on King Street as an important landmark.
In the early 1990s, Central’s facilities were rented to Family Place, a Provincial Government sponsored organization, designed to teach healthy lifestyle skills to parents and caregivers of preschool children. At the turn of the millennium, the program became a part of the “Ontario Early Years Centre” and made its permanent home at Central United. Renovations were required to accommodate this sharing, such as improving the kitchen, and remodeling the chapel and Sunbeam room, as well as other rooms on the second floor. The total cost of these improvements was over $300,000, though the transformation of our church went far beyond physical attributes. The church is busy every day, and we are grateful that our facilities can bring so much good to our community.
In 2000, to better support our ministry personnel, the manse on Church Street was sold, with the funds put into a manse fund to support a housing allowance. This allowed ministers to purchase their own homes.
During our years of ministry, Central has supported several mission projects, at one time being the largest giver to the Mission and Service Fund of the United Church of Canada in our Conference. At another time, our church rose to the challenge of helping recent refugees to Canada find homes, and jobs, and learn English. Through our Outreach ministry we have, for several years, been home to the Harvest Kitchen. Central has had a long history of mission work and sees its call to care for not only our community of Welland, but the wider global community.
We are thankful to have such a rich and vibrant history, to remind us not only of our past, but encourage us for the years to come. As we look to the future, may these words from the dedication of the Education Building in 1953 sing in our hearts:
As we pass this milestone in our church history, let us remember the words of the Psalmist,
“Unless the Lord builds the house, those who build it labor in vain.”
We will dream again, and again, until the teachings and principles of the Holy Scriptures are made, not only the common possession of humankind, but the common rule of life in all our undertakings. This is a day of fulfillment, but it is also a day of beginnings, and we go forward into the new day with courage and confidence. The God who had led us hitherto will continue to lead and bless us.