Church History

Presentation for 80th Anniversary of Westminster Presbyterian Church
1928 – 2008
By Ernie Dance

Official records show that Westminster Presbyterian Church was organized on March 23, 1928.  Divine service was held that same day at the home of Zebulum Ketchum.  Services were subsequently held in the Masonic Hall.  Also, Sunday School was held there and Mrs. David Arch, mother of Jessie Bailey, was one of the first Sunday School teachers.  By April 22nd of that year, 78 people shared in the communion service and on September 27th, several elders were inducted, including David Arch, father of Jessie Bailey.

The congregation’s determination to have a church in which to worship produced a building committee.  This committee purchased two lots of River Street – now Roosevelt Avenue.  As mortgage funds were difficult to get, it was decided to construct a basement.  The cornerstone was laid on November 11th, 1931.  Membership had risen to 168 by this time.  Little did the congregation know that it would be 1954 before the sanctuary would be completed.

It was about this time that the name “Westminster” appears in the records, a name which reflected the theological roots of the church, rather than the locality.  The pulpit, used in the basement church, came from Bethany Church.

In January 1934, Dr. William Patterson became the first ordained minister at Westminster, at a stipend of $900.  In January 1953, there was a giant step forward.  Presbytery outlined plans for completion of the church building.  With the assistance of the other churches in Presbytery, sale of the manse, the Christian Outreach loan and their own congregation, $80,000 was collected.  On February 28th 1954, the new church was dedicated by the moderator of the General Assembly, Reverend Dr. W.A. Cameron.  At a congregational dinner, held on March 2nd, the Right Honourable John Diefenbaker was a guest speaker.

When Reverend Creelman arrived at Westminster in 1954, the membership stood at approximately 230 members.  In 1964, membership stood at 468 – more than double what it had been on his arrival.  Due to a need for more Sunday School space, an architect was hired in 1961 to design a building addition and on March 17th, 1963, the new Christian Education building was dedicated.  The congregation was deeply shocked by Reverend Creelman’s sudden death on January 23rd, 1964.

Reverend William Bell came to Westminster in 1965 and served the congregation well until 1973.

Reverend William MacLellan succeeded Reverend Bell.  His ministry was to be a relatively brief one —  three years, as he accepted a call to the chaplaincy services of the Canadian Forces.

Reverend William McElwain succeeded Reverend MacLellan.  During 1979 – 1981, Duncan Kennedy worked with our youth group on weekends, while studying at Presbyterian College in Montreal.  In 1983, Reverend McElwain accepted a call to St. Giles’ church in St. Catherines, Ontario.  In this same year, prior to Reverend McElwain’s departure, Miss Donna Williams (now Mrs. David McIllveen) was welcomed to Westminster’s staff as our first Director of Development, and remained with us until 1986.

In 1984, Reverend John Finlayson succeeded Reverend McElwain as minister of Westminster and served the congregation until early in 1987.  In 1984, to provide easy accessibility to our churches many facilities, an elevator was installed.  It was completely paid off in 1987, leaving Westminster debt free.

After a fairly long vacancy, Reverend Mac Shields arrived at Westminster and was inducted on July 17th, 1988.  In July 2000, Reverend Shields retired and at a very special party, we celebrated his 13 dedicated years of service to the congregation and many years of service to the Presbyterian Church in Canada.  Blair Bertram was hired as Youth Director in 1995, and was with us until June 2000, when he left to pursue his studies to become a minister in the Presbyterian Church.

Without music, our worship services would be very bland.  In the early years, numerous people filled in as pianists.  Even Isobel Gow played when needed, especially in the Sunday School.  When I arrived at Westminster in 1964, Jacob Morman was the organist and choir director.  In 1966, Bramwell Bailey replaced Jacob Morman and remained until 1976.  During Bram’s time with us, we procured a new organ.  With the dedication of Bram and his wife, Jessie, we raised most of the money for the organ.  Our own Alan Thomas arrived in 1977 and has been our organist and choir director to this day.  We are fortunate to have a person of Alan’s talent and dedication.

Church secretaries are so important to a minister’s ability to get things done in the office and we have had some wonderful skilled ladies.  Lynn Woolsey filled this position from 1986 to 2001.  Elizabeth Reed and Helen Lillico were here prior to that.  Pat Carey is our current secretary.

Throughout the 80 years of Westminster’s existence, women have always been an integral part of the fabric of our church — too many to name without leaving someone out.  Without the efforts of the many women’s groups over the years, the church would never have survived.  Millie Patterson (Radmore), along with her group, was a typical example of participation in church activities to raise funds.  In 1974, her group catered to 1,920 guests at 10 banquets and dinners.

I would be amiss if I didn’t make mention of the contribution of Reverend Doctor Peter Wotherspoon to our congregation.  He acted as Moderator during vacancies on more than one occasion and served as pulpit supply many times.

Our current minister, Reverend William Ball, arrived at Westminster in June 2001.  He put it so well in an annual report.  “God’s love and grace are the foundation of our lives.  It is this gift, in Jesus Christ, that we offer to others.”

It is God’s love and grace that we offer as we have reached out to the congregation of Erskine Presbyterian Church in their proposal to amalgamate our two congregations.  At a meeting in June, it was immediately evident that the principles established by representatives of the two congregations were not only complimentary but an excellent basis for a strong working relationship.  The openness and goodwill of both groups to reach an amiable amalgamation was very apparent.

Westminster was closed on Sunday, October 21st, when the two congregations gathered for the closing service at Erskine.  On that same evening, a special service of thanksgiving took place at Erskine.  The commencement of our life as a joint congregation began on Sunday, October 28th, 2007.

May we continue in this ministry of love and grace.