Anniversary Vignette #11
June 10, 1925 – The United Church of Canada
The United Church of Canada was created by an Act of the Canadian Parliament that received Royal Assent on July 19, 1924. This was the culmination of a process that had been evolving intermittently since 1884, when another Act of Parliament joined three branches of the Methodist Church to form the Methodist Church of Canada. The movement towards church union was rekindled in the first decade of the 20th century. The 1912 Annual Report of Bank Street Presbyterian Church – the predecessor of Chalmers, reported that 85% of the congregation had voted in favour of “organic union” of the Presbyterian, Methodist and Congregationalist Churches. The “union movement”, as it was known, was halted during the World War of 1914-1918 but was taken up again in the early 1920s.
The final step towards church union involved voting in the individual congregations of the Methodist, Presbyterian and Congregational churches across Canada. On the basis of the amalgamated results of these plebiscites, the national governing bodies of the Methodist and Congregational Churches decided that their denominations would join the church union.
There are no records concerning the vote at Dominion Methodist Church, presumably because they were destroyed in the 1961 fire. Church union is mentioned only briefly in the Annual Reports of Dominion Church for 1924 and 1925: “We must look forward to the United Church of Canada, a church that may more truly and efficiently carry on the work of the Kingdom in this country …” (1924); “The Church Union Movement has claimed much time and attention during the past year and now we close the chapter of Methodist history as a
separate denomination in Canada. ….. we trust that in the United Church of Canada, Dominion Church may ever prove true to the trust
committed to her and may enter upon a more glorious period of service” (1925).
A different decision-making process was followed by the Presbyterian Church because “a substantial minority of Presbyterians remained unconvinced of the virtues of church union. Their threat to the entire project was resolved by giving individual Presbyterian congregations the right to vote on whether to enter or remain outside the United Church.” (The United Church of Canada, Wikipedia). In accordance with this approach, a committee of equal numbers of union and anti-union members of Chalmers Presbyterian Church worked out the voting procedures to determine the will of the congregation on church union. Voting began at the end of a special congregational meeting on December 22, 1924 and continued every day for the next two weeks (except Sundays, but including Christmas and New Year’s Days). On January 06, 1925, the ballots were counted by representatives from both sides of the issue. The result was: 651 in favour of union, 197 against. Thus, with the approval of 76% of the congregation, Chalmers Presbyterian Church voted to join the United Church of Canada.
Rev. J.W. Woodside, senior minister at Chalmers Presbyterian Church, worked vigorously on behalf of the Union Committee of the Presbyterian Church in Canada, taking several leaves-of-absence from his pastoral duties. After the Chalmers congregation voted to join the United Church, he was particularly active in working with the “unionist minorities” from Presbyterian churches across the country who had voted against union.
In the weeks and months following the Chalmers Church vote, there were numerous meetings the Session and Board of Managers to find ways to welcome the unionist minorities from St. Andrew’s and Knox Presbyterian Churches. Included in the minority from St. Andrews was their former minister, Rev. G.G.D. Kilpatrick, to whom the Chalmers congregation issued a call to be their Associate Minister. Another issue concerned the seating arrangements in the Chalmers sanctuary where pews were purchased or rented by individual members. This issue was resolved by declaring that “all seats were free”; the name-cards of Chalmers members were removed. The unionist minorities were officially welcomed into the Chalmers congregation at a service of Holy Communion on Sunday, 15 February 1925 (Annual Report, 1925).
The United Church of Canada was inaugurated at a large worship service in Toronto’s Mutual Street Arena on June 10, 1925. As a symbolic representation of their union, members of the Presbyterian, Methodist and Congregationalist Church entered the Arena by separate aisles but intermingled as they left the service. The United Churches of Ottawa and district celebrated church union at “a great Inaugural Service … held in the [Ottawa] Auditorium* on the 21st day of June. Over 8000 people … were present, and many were unable to gain admittance. … this was probably the greatest religious service ever held in Ottawa.” (Session Report, 1925 Chalmers Church Yearbook).
- Wikipedia – The United Church of Canada, accessed on 27 May 2012
- The Manual of the United Church of Canada
- Chalmers Presbyterian Church, Annual Report for 1925
- Dominion Methodist Church, Annual Reports for 1924, 1925
- Chalmers United Church Session, Report in 1925 Yearbook
* The Ottawa Auditorium, located at the corner of O’Connor and Argyle, was the city’s main hockey arena after 1923; in 1967, it was demolished and replaced by the present YMCA-YWCA building.