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Jan 06, 2013  |  Vote 0    0

Westminster United Church to close ‘with a flourish’

Congregation voted to shut down rather than merge with another church

York Guardian

A church that can trace its origins back more than 150 years is shutting its doors come spring.

With deep regret, Westminster United Church will hold its last service June 16 at 69 William St., said life-long member Mary Louise Ashbourne.

“Membership has been dropping,” she said. “There comes a time where you have to think seriously of the viable number of congregants attending Sundays. We need a number of people to not just sit in pews but to do things. The church is largely run on a volunteer basis. The numbers just aren’t growing.”

After meeting with the congregation, it was decided in October to close the church for good instead of merging with another, she said.

“It didn’t seem like a viable thing,” Ashbourne said of a possible merge. “As for the building itself, the plan is to sell it or have another church congregation willing to buy it.”

Ashbourne, a third-generation member, said she feels sad about the end of Westminster United Church, but realistically understands the need for the decision.

“We’re not unique, so many are facing the same situation,” she said. “We were a viable congregation and all of a sudden you find we are getting older and we need new, young people coming in to keep it viable. And we don’t have new people coming in.”

It’s typical to see some 30 to 40 members attend regularly on Sundays, Ashbourne said, adding the church has a membership of just over 100.

“We are going to go out with a flourish,” she said. “We will make a good year of celebrations. I loved Westminster, I still love Westminster. It’s been home.”

According to the church’s website, the earliest Presbyterian services in Weston were held in at least two private homes prior to 1847, with the organization of the Weston Free Church in 1858.

The first church was built in 1865 and named Westminster Presbyterian Church. In 1913, church services moved to the Sunday school building on Main Street and entered the United Church of Canada in 1925.

A movement to build a new church began in January 1946, and in September the site on William Street was purchased, with the first sermon held Feb. 22, 1953.

Rev. Douglas Varey said the church is committed to offering positive worshipping services until the day the doors close.

“I think it was a wise decision,” he said of members voting overwhelmingly in favour of shutting down. “You’re drawing from funds that have been donated over the years and after a while you ask yourself how responsible is it to keep spending the money.”

Varey, who was ordained in 1986 and has been with Westminster United Church since 2009, said he’ll be retiring following the last service but will remain active with the United Church.

“It’s a difficult time for Westminster but we will be holding our heads high,” he said.

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