By Michele Poirier
Keswick United Church, a prominent church in Georgina for the past 149 years, will hold its last service on April 30.
The congregation recently voted to disband the church as attendance is declining, and no one is stepping forward to take leadership roles.
“God’s word has been shared; bible studies attended, baptisms performed, conversions actualized. Does God have new plans for this space? Our present work has been completed,” Shirley Stiles, a member of the Keswick United Church Board, wrote in a summary of the church’s history.
While the loss of the church is painful, Stiles chose not to end on a negative note, instead celebrating everything the church has accomplished over the years, including five members ordained.
“There were baptismal services, garden parties on the lawns of members’ homes, goose dinners, services for 250 people at the beaches, hockey trophies, steak barbecues, children’s picnics, pancake breakfasts, and Easter Sunrise services,” she wrote.
According to the church’s website, Keswick United Church was established in 1874 in what is now the narthex of the present church.
It was originally a Methodist Church until they joined the Presbyterians and Congregationalists to form the United Church of Canada in 1925.
The shell of the sanctuary and bell tower was built in 1930. The Fireside Room, meeting halls and kitchen were added in the 1950s, with a renovation to the church sanctuary in 1964.
In 2010, the building got a new roof with additional interior renovations.
Stiles and fellow Board members Diane Armstrong and Andrea Brown agree that things have changed over the years, and fewer people are attending services.
“Our congregation hasn’t been growing. People aren’t coming out to church, and it’s not just the United Church. So there’s been, unfortunately, no new folk, young people, coming in to continue with everything,” Armstrong said.
Armstrong adds the pandemic and being partly shut down for a couple of years also played a role. People lost their routine of going to church, costs kept coming in, and with no new leadership, they decided to close the church.
“A lot of young people, young families, have all grown up now and gone on to other things. We’ve also had a lot of elderly people who passed on or who can no longer come to church,” Brown said.
Armstrong says it has been a gradual decrease, which she started noticing years ago when children’s sports began to take place on Sundays and took over the Sunday routine of going to church.
“The hockey arena became the church,” Stiles added.
They said they currently have around 54 members, with approximately 15 to 20 members attending service on Sundays.
Brown reminisced about how busy the church was in the past, with shared meals and bazaars, saying they always had something going on every month.
“It was so busy and so happy,” she said.
Armstrong said members could choose to attend their sister church, Ravenshoe United Church, or another church.
The United Church of Canada owns the building, and Stiles said they would take responsibility for the property after April 30.
However, for now, the church will continue to rent the space out to the Once Again Boutique and several groups who use it for meetings.
“We are going to miss the church so much. It’s a part of who we are, all of us,” Stiles said.
Still, they plan to keep in touch with the friends they have made there over the years.
“It’s going to be a big void in all of our lives, and where we go next, we’re not sure, but one thing we do have is a friendship, and that is not going to change,” Armstrong said.
“It’s a beautiful church, but we all get together; Shirley, Diane and myself. So that’s quite nice; we’ll continue to do that,” she said.
The final service will be on Sunday, April 30, at Keswick United Church, located at 177 Church Street in Keswick.
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