St. Stephen United Church history
STEPHEN UNITED CHURCH – BURLINGTON ONTARIO 1958-2019
A brief History
As the populace was slowly moving up to north Burlington a survey was conducted back in 1933 to see whether there was sufficient support in establishing a new church. Unfortunately the results were very disappointing. Not giving up, another attempt was made the following year but again with similar results. It took another 23 years before another survey was attempted. Early in 1957, the minister of Trinity United Church, Rev. G. K. McMillan and his Young Peoples’ group initiated another canvass. It’s unclear whether there was an actual attempt to consider starting a new church in the neighbourhood or whether to perhaps starting a satellite Young Peoples’ group in north Burlington. Regardless, this time the results were overwhelmingly in favour. Practically overnight, a large group of locals including 14 Trinity youths held the very first service in the auditorium at Clarksdale Public School.
A young ministry student, Miss Doris Grierson, was recruited to lead them during the initial phases. But, alas, the services held in the school auditorium were not able to continue. With a large influx of young families into the Clarksdale community, the school board needed to expand classroom space. Nelson UC came to the rescue, offering to share their facilities with this emerging congregation. St. Stephen was finally constituted as a congregation on Jan. 12th, 1958. A local resident and new church member, Paul A. Fisher, donated a tract of land for the new church and pretty soon a new portable rolled onto the property to become their first home. By 1960, a permanent building was erected and dedicated on Nov. 13, 1960. Church member, Don Matthews was the designer/architect of the project. As the neighbourhood grew, so did the church membership. Before long, there was a membership of several hundred families and the Sunday school enrollment reached just short of 400 children. Things were not all smooth sailing. By 1970, the congregation was burdened with an overwhelming debt that necessitated severing and selling off a piece of the street front property. That was developed into residential lots to ease the debt burden.
Shortly afterwards, Rev. Walter Marttila took over the pulpit for nearly 10 years. Under his leadership the congregation continued to grow and thrive. Walter believed in and was a great promoter of small group activities and relational lifestyle. A co-op nursery school helped to attract and bring in young families into church membership. By 1979, an addition had to be added on to accommodate more meeting space, offices, and Sunday school rooms. In the spring of 1982, Walter left St. Stephen to take on the role of Halton Presbytery’s New Church Development Officer. Once settled in, Walter turned around and came back to St. Stephen suggesting that with the rapid growth of north Burlington and being the only United Church in the service area, it was time to consider another facilities expansion to better serve the community. After much deliberation, consultation and debating, the congregation reviewing the situation of other larger churches, concluded that for St. Stephen bigger was not necessarily better and declined to consider another expansion program. This then necessitated that Halton Presbytery implement an alternative plan.
Now that expansion was out of consideration, we now had a land locked piece of property behind the lots that were previously sold off. Looking for a use of the land, we worked with United Church’s Jubilee Consultants to try to develop a geared to income housing project. Unfortunately, after years of planning the project failed to come into fruition and was abandoned.
As we approached millennium, a New Initiatives Committee was formed to consider new projects to undertake. One was the complete redesign and renovation of the chancel area. Another was again to find a use for the vacant land locked piece of property beside the church. As it turned out, the Rotary Clubs of Burlington had set a goal of building a hospice in Burlington. Various sites around Burlington were considered and our St. Stephen lot was one of them. Not quite reaching their financial goal, the Rotary Clubs reached out to various businesses and prominent residents in the city for help. Hearing of their plight, local businessman Mr. Len Carpenter quickly donated $500,000 and thus the hospice now bears the family name. Having city mayor Rob McIsaac as co-chair really facilitated rapid progress of the project. Nothing like a loud voice at City Hall and on May 25th, 2002 the Carpenter Hospice was officially opened. They were given a 99 year lease at a yearly rental fee of $1.00 plus a rose. From the first day the whole city of Burlington had supported the hospice with amazing financial support, a huge list of volunteers, and a Board of Directors filled with locally prominent residents.
2007 was an especially memorable year at St. Stephen. It was our 50th Anniversary with yearlong celebrations and capped off with a gala dinner-dance held at the Burlington Convention Centre. Another event was the trip to Zambia by a group of our church members, including Heather McGavin, Paul Bartu, Bruce Bainbridge, Lesley Wiens, Michelle Shilton, and Phyllis Luff. Our member Chisanga Puta-Chekwe has his roots in Zambia and with his help, we connected and developed a sister congregation relationship with St. Marks Congregation of the United Church of Zambia located in Chingola. Our 6 members made the long trek to central/south Africa and participated in the Golden Jubilee Celebrations. Along with all their luggage, the group took with them a large parcel of medical supplies to be distributed by Medical Ministry International in Zambia. Afterwards we had an entertaining and informative evening hearing about their travel stories, seeing their pictures and mementos. A once in a lifetime experience for the group. A reciprocal trip for St. Marks members was in the works, however, unfortunately didn’t materialize as we were entering uncertain times. Chisanga is President of the Masomo Foundation, whose purpose is to help achieve economic and social development by providing scholarships for post secondary education in Zambia. We have and continue to support this foundation. A few years later, Heather McGavin, Michelle Shilton and Marilyn Martin assembled and this time went to Bolivia with MMI. The congregation supported funding of medical supplies through Health Partners International.
With the war going on in Afghanistan, one of our members, Bruce Bainbridge, went over in 2010 for a 6 month civilian assignment to do his part to support the cause. There’s a Tim Horton’s coffee outlet on the base so we collected donations for “Coffee for Kandahar”. Bruce went over as a refrigeration technician maintaining all of the bases refrigeration and air conditioning equipment. Bruce was able to treat many folks on the base for coffee and not just soldiers. During one of our Sunday morning services, we were able to Skype with him and were brought up to date on current conditions and situation. Happily he came home safely without incident.
Maturity & Decline
Sadly over the ensuing years, St. Stephen faced a declining church attendance as with nearly all Canadian main stream churches. With declining membership and revenue, it became a non-sustainable situation requiring drastic action. The wheels of progress do move slowly and what seemed like a decade in passing and many different scenarios considered, the final decision settled upon The Carpenter Hospice purchasing the land and building of St. Stephen and the congregation elected to proceed with amalgamation with Tansley UC. The final service at St. Stephen was held on Sunday June 9th, 2019 with celebrations the weeks before of who we were.
Life at St. Stephen
We have been gifted with exceptional music and choir directors over the years, from Richard Street, Shauna Ritz, Shirley Philips and others. Thus we have had a large senior choir who year round support the Sunday morning services. In addition, we have been entertained with their annual Spring Fling Variety Show where often individual musical talents have been highlighted. Their annual Christmas Candlelight Service cantata was always performed before a full house and afterwards they hosted hot cider and goodies for all of the attendees. In the past, there have been also a large junior choir and a youth choir and band. The Sunday school has always had its own music program and its repertoire of children’s songs. Amazingly, Dave Dalgleish, right up to the very last church service, had come out faithfully every week to play piano for the Sunday School for over 40 years. At one time we even had 3 guitar groups, The Monday Night Music Makers, The New Beginnings, and the ever present Singing Strings, who are still meeting and performing.
Supporting the needs of children has always been a priority. The Baby Fold(nursery) was organized and staffing looked after by Helen Morgan for over 25 years. There have been all of the United Church sponsored groups that met. These included, Messengers, Tyros, Sigma-C, Hi-C, Explorers, and CGIT. St. Stephen can boast that out of one YPU(Young Peoples’ Union) group that met in the 1970’s, 3 United Church ministers came out of the group, Rev. Rob Dalgleish(current Exec. Dir. of EDGE), Rev. Linda Nash(Ljunggren), and Rev. Kathy Urbasik. In the late 1960’s, the Sunday school enrollment was just short of 300 with an average weekly attendance of over 200. St. Stephen also supported and sponsored a large number of Scout groups, from Beavers, Cub, Scouts, Sparks, Brownies, Guides, Rangers, Venturers, and Pathfinders. Their highlight was Lord Baden Powell Day celebrated in February when each troop filed into the sanctuary carrying their flags and banners at a service dedicated for them.
For older folks, we had a Kerygma Study group.
Right after 9-11, in view of the growing hostility towards the Muslim community, our minister Rev. Dr. Keith Knill conducted a series of study classes of Islam right after church and concluded with a visit to the local mosque and met their Imam. The purpose of course was to dispel the notion that all Muslims are our enemies and are terrorists.
Each year as the school year came to a close, usually around Father’s Day in June, we held a Family Picnic pot luck and barbecue. Food, fun and games planned for all ages. Recent years, these events were held on our front and side lawns. In the past we were much more adventurous and held combined church service and picnics at Hidden Valley Park, LaSalle Park, Lowville Park, Christie Conservation Area and many at Bronte Creek Provincial Park.
UCW and Womens’ Group
There has been very little not said about this stalwart ladies group who seemed to be always there when there was a need. Their special events included the annual Mother’s Day High Tea, Rummage Sales, the Christmas Candy Cane Kitchen bazaar and where men were recruited to operated the lunch room, Shrove Tuesday’s Pancake Suppers and always there in support of our many outreach programs, too many to mention.
Over the years, Wesley Urban Ministries has been a major focus of our outreach programs. Each year, many active participants and congregational sponsors supported the Case for Kids, Walk, Run, Ride event. In the fall, dozens of volunteers carpooled into Hamilton, with loads of food to prepare, cook and serve often up to 250 grateful folks. Each year a mitten tree was erected and hundreds of candy bags filled to be distributed. In collaboration with eight North Burlington churches, we were a partner in North Burlinkton Dinner Night Out served at Glad Tidings. Other organizations on our outreach list were Burlington Food Bank, Halton Women’s Place, The Bridge, Masomo Foundation, and Scouts Canada.
In 2015, along with seven other United Churches, we worked together to sponsor 19 Syrian refugees during that crisis. A welcoming tea to meet and greet these new Canadians was held at St. Stephen.
Empty Chair Productions
Brian Sharpe had always had this passion to become involved in the theatre. Finally with the support and urging of his church friends, he dove into his first project. In 2001 the presentation was “Waiting for the Parade”. A very large endeavour involving a lot of people, many, many, activities that he had to manage, direct and oversee. Everyone who participated in the production were church members except the dinner/theatre night when an outside caterer was brought in. After the millennium renovations were made to the sanctuary, the first couple shows were presented there. The challenge was to design the sets such that the chancel area could be quickly reconverted back after a Saturday night performance for church service Sunday morning. Once the auditorium seating arrangement was determined, tickets had to be designed, printed, and then sold. A group of retired men were assembled to design and build the stage and sets involving carpenters, an electrician, and a sound and lighting technician. Ladies looked after designing and making costumes. Meanwhile Brian, himself was rehearsing with all of the actors. It’s amazing how many talented people we had in the congregation. On show nights, there were stage hands, ushers, prompters, and refreshment table attendants. A production involved so many people, it truly was a labour of love, especially for only a half dozen performances. Future shows were performed in the Activity Hall. Averaging one show per year, these were the shows performed, Office Hours, Nurse Jane Goes to Hawaii, Here on the Flight Path, Maggie Gets Married, Billy Bishop Goes to War, Play On, The Odd Couple(female version) and Shirley Valentine. It is believed that Brian chose the name Empty Chair Productions as a tribute to his late wife Dorothy and he dedicated each new production to any church members who had passed away since the last show. Some of the proceeds from these shows went on to support Princess Diana’s land mine clearing projects in Asia and Chisanga’s Masomo Education Foundation.
Miss Doris Grierson
Rev. Earl W. Brearley
Rev. Milton J. Aiken
Rev. Roy D. Kennedy
Rev. Donald E. C. McLean
Rev. Helmuth Dyck
Rev. Arch G. A. McCurdy
Rev. Walter R. Marttila
Rev. Douglas Plaskett
Rev. Lynn Curtin
Rev. Gerry Brown
Rev. Ken Wardle
Rev. Dr. Keith Knill
Rev. Ross Hibberd
Rev. Allison Playfair