120 year history ends with love and grief
By Grace Oborne
Churchgoers and their families gathered for the last time on a hot Sunday afternoon to fill the pews of the little white church that love and faith built. The afternoon was spent remembering the countless services of worship and sacraments that were celebrated for decades.
On Sunday, July 17, Maple Lake United Church held its last service after members voted to disband the congregation on Jan. 30 after 120 years since the first congregation of the then-new building.
Reverend Max Ward explained the primary reason for the disbandment was due to the lack of attendance and financial aid.
“The decline over the years has resulted in that January decision to close to church permanently. The church had a lack of members and friends who were attending regularly and contributing to the finances of the church which resulted in it not being sustainable any longer,” Max said.
During the service, members took turns recounting the church’s milestones and their fondest memories in the church. Long-time member and music director of the church, Deloris Sawyer Bailey, shared what it was like to have grown up in this congregation with the Maple Lake community.
“When I was ten years old, Mom and Dad decided to move to Maple Lake. Mom and Dad didn’t attend church, but Mom would send us kids to Sunday school. When I lived in Weston, I attended Sunday school at the Weston Baptist Church. I think we went there because it was the closest church to where we lived. When we moved to Maple Lake, I attended Sunday school at the little white church on the corner,” Deloris said, referring to the church’s location on Highway 118 and Stanhope Airport Road. “My sister was married by this time, and I don’t remember my brothers going to Sunday school with me. I would walk to and from the Maple Lake Church to attend Sunday school. I don’t remember what time Sunday school was, but it was after lunch, and the church service followed right after Sunday school. I usually walked home following Sunday school, and as I left the church, the pews would be filled with families from Maple Lake and West Guilford for Sunday worship.”
Christena Barry and her husband, Don, have been members of the church since Aug. 7, 2016. To keep the building everlasting, the Barry’s fundraised for the church often. The Barry’s recall their fundraising as one of her many memorable moments with the church.
“Don and I also did quite a bit of fundraising for the church. We did a carpet sale to raise money for the church where we set up just like a store in the basement of the church, and we did a carpet sale. We sold everything at our cost and turned all monies over to a little church,” Barry said.
At the service, the congregation sang hymns such as Amazing Grace. They were accompanied by United Church’s admired organist Kathleen Owens, who held the post for nearly 65 years. When speaking to the Times after the last service, Owens expressed utter sadness over the church closing.
“It’s been years and years, so I feel very sad that the church is closing, but I guess we now have to move on. I’m sad that’s the way it must be,” Kathleen said.
Kathleen was accompanied by Bill Gliddon, long-time organist for St. George’s Anglican Church in Haliburton. Although Bill was never the church’s regular organist, he has been there for the significant moments.
“Every year we had a Valentine’s Day concert for the church, which was really neat. They always asked me if I would bring some of my choir from St. George’s to participate, and because Kathleen Owens was the organist there, we, of course, had a great time. We did that every year,” Bill said.
He credited Kathleen for her dedication, and he appreciated their past collaborations.
“I’ve been organist for 60 years, specifically at St. George’s, but she’s been organist for over 60 years at Maple Lake United. Together, we go back over a century, well over a century. She’s been the one who has been so faithful there and so I certainly want to give her all the credit. I’ve helped her when she’s needed it.”
Loyal members of Maple Lake United have been grieving the loss of their little white church. For Christena, like many others, the closing of the church has been heavy.
“We are in the middle of grieving because it’s like a death. It’s a life that has ended, and while we’ve done the celebration of the life of the church, the church is now no longer going to be known as what we knew it as,” she said.
The closing of the church has made room for faithful churchgoers of Maple Lake United to feel confused and sad about their next steps.
“I think for a lot of people, it’s hard. For me, I’ve learned to be adaptable, but some are kind of set in their ways. I know that some of the people that attended the church, they have lived in the Maple Lake area all their lives. I don’t think others, whether they can’t, or don’t want to adapt to another church. It’s because Maple Lake is where their heart is. My heart is there too,” Deloris said.
Christena is troubled about what she and her husband will do next.
“I am getting a lot of mixed feelings for wondering what is going to happen. What will the end result be? What will our decision be, as to where we turn to for our worship? Will it be worshiping by a river somewhere, under a tree? Will it be worshiping in another church? Where are we going to turn now? We’re not sure yet,” she said.
Max, being the worship leader for Highland Hills United Church as well, has invited everyone to join him there for worship and community.
After the final service, the Maple Lake church family stood outside to embrace one another, to reminisce about the good times, and to give thanks to the building that provided them a safe place to worship.
“How wonderful though, was it to have met everybody through the church that we did and to have had those people as our church family, including Max. Then for us to have come together at the end,” Christena said.
The little white church on the corner of Hwy 118 and Stanhope Airport Road was full of life and love for the last service. Many have moved away but returned to say on one last goodbye.