By Sue Tiffin
During the Advent season of hope, Reverend Max Ward said the congregation of Maple Lake United Church is “hoping for a hopeful story.”
On Nov. 25, a letter from the church council was sent to members, adherents and friends of the church, encouraging them to “attend worship and to continue to contribute to the finances and work of the church,” as well as to “spread the word to your friends and neighbours that Maple Lake United Church is in trouble.”
“Our little church on the corner of Highway 118 and Stanhope Airport Road, the corner formerly known as Clark’s Corners, has seen a lot of changes over the years,” reads the letter. “Most recently, with a small and mostly elderly congregation, we have struggled to keep up the physical and financial demands of maintaining our church. For many years, we have relied on fundraising to fill the gap between what the congregation offers in donations and the actual cost to operate the church. Then COVID-19 came along.”
The public health restrictions put in place to prevent the spread of COVID-19 have resulted in challenges for the church congregation to run fundraisers in a safe way.
A meeting was held on Nov. 21 for the congregation to discuss the future of the church.
“The meeting held last Sunday was to make us all aware of the challenges, to ask for help and pray for guidance,” reads the letter. “Many memories were shared and even some tears shed with the thought of what will happen to the church should we not be able to continue as before and have to close the building permanently.”
On Jan. 30, 2022, the church’s annual meeting will include a discussion and a decision to continue on with much-needed additional support (including increased attendance at church and increases in offering and fundraising); permanently close the building and amalgamate the congregation with another United Church congregation, possibly Highland Hills United Church, or permanently close the building and disband the congregation encouraging members and adherents to attend the church of their choice.
“Any voting at the annual meeting will be done by church members,” reads the letter. “We request your active participation between now and the annual meeting, during the Advent, Christmas and Epiphany seasons of new hope, to show us that the first option is a viable option. Sadly, the half dozen regular members that attend worship are very discouraged and fearful that we cannot continue.”
Ward oversees the charge of Highland Hills United Church in Minden and Maple Lake United Church in Algonquin Highlands.
“We are hopeful that with a bit of awareness, the church might be able to continue for many years to come into the future but the current outlook isn’t good without an infusion of more people to help with the volunteer work and financial support needed to operate the church,” he said.
According to a brief history of the church, “On Dec. 1, 1900, the amalgamated Methodist congregations of Pine Lake (West Guilford) and Maple Lake met to consider the advisability of building a church at the burying ground at Clarke’s Corners. Meetings were held at each of the school houses, and a sum of $250 in cash and work had been subscribed.”
The new building was to seat 150 people, and a driving shed to accommodate at least five teams was proposed.
“Fifty men, many with teams, hauled lumber from the Stevens Mill at Boshkung and lumber and materials from Haliburton,” reads the church history. “Labour was directed by Mr. R. Gordon who contracted the work and received $115 for 12 weeks’ work. December 1901 saw the main building completed and ready to be furnished by a very anxious and appreciative congregation, who raised the necessary finances by pledges, social teas, honey socials and volunteer work … We are so grateful to the many loyal people who dedicated much in the intervening years from 1902 to the present.”
In the 1950s, the interior of the church was renovated through the help of donations, and a basement, new siding and a new roof were added. A kitchen was completed in the ’60s, as well as a furnace installed to replace the old wood stove. Since then, choir gowns, seat covers for the pews, the first stained glass window (and subsequent stained glass windows) and a newer, larger organ have been added to the interior.
In Oct. 2016, the former Minden United Church and Zion United Church voted to amalgamate, while the congregants at Maple Lake United Church voted for it to remain a freestanding church.
At that time, Zion United Church had the largest congregation, up to 45 people on an average Sunday. Minden United Church had an average congregation of 40 or so people, and Maple Lake United eight to 12. The result of the amalgamation, which was finalized in Sept. 2018, is Highland Hills United Church in Minden, with Zion United Church being sold.
“One can only guess what would happen to Maple Lake United Church if the church members cannot continue to operate it as a church,” said Ward.
For more information on Maple Lake United Church visit highlandhillspc.ca.