Billings council looking at possible use for church building
KAGAWONG—Billings Township council will consider options on how it can help to keep one of the oldest buildings in the township useable in view of its pending closure. Delegates of St. Paul’s On the Hill United Church met with council last week to explain that due to decreasing congregation numbers the church will be closing. They were seeking council’s input on potential municipal interest in the church.
“We will do all we can to help,” Billings Mayor Austin Hunt told church delegates at a council meeting last week. “I’m not happy with this news at all. The church has been a part of the community since it was formed.”
“You (council) have a letter from the church that indicates there are not enough people using it to continue to run,” Jacquie Gordon told council. “We are wondering if the township is interested in buying the church.”
Ms. Gordon explained the church has good electric heating, the underpinnings are still good as the building is on solid rock, although it doesn’t have water and toilet facilities. “Our thought is maybe it could be run in the summer for museum displays or other displays.”
“The congregation has realized for awhile now that the church use would come to an end and their fears are that it would close and have to be torn down if it wasn’t sold, as it the oldest building in town,” said John Christian. “Everyone would like to see it continue to be part of the community.”
“I really feel bad the church is not going to carry on. It is the backbone of the community,” said Mayor Hunt.
It was noted by Mr. Christian that there is a deed to the church. “According to the registry it is still held by the Henry congregation.”
“Maybe the municipality could use part of the building for displays from the museum, ” suggested Mr. Christian. He pointed out that he and Ms. Gordon are trustees for the church and charged with its sale. “We have to go back to the congregation and then to Presbytery who will be meeting again in September as to council’s decision. As for what the church could be purchased for it would be minimal council was told.
“Presbytery is where the final decision is made on the future of the church,” said Mr. Christian.
“If we (council) decide we are interested in the church what would we need to do?” asked Councillor Sharon Alkenbrack.
“The easiest option would be an offer to purchase,” said Mr. Christian.
When asked if services have continued at the church, Mr. Christian said no, that some of the congregation members go to church in Mindemoya or other local churches in Billings, while others attend church in Gore Bay or Silver Water.
“We can’t provide you an answer tonight, but we will give this good consideration and try to help out. We will do what we can to help,” said Mayor Hunt.
In the letter to council, the church delegates explained, “as most of you are aware, the church currently serving as the sanctuary for the United Church of Canada congregation for Kagawong and Billings, St. Paul’s on the Hill, was constructed in 1881 and is one of the oldest in-use structures in the municipality. The church was originally constructed by volunteers under the supervision of Mr. Johnston on a plot of land donated by the Henry brothers and built with local materials, including lumber from the Henry brother’s sawmill located at Bridal Veil Falls.”
“The church was originally Methodist, although it served as a meeting place for members of a variety of denominations including Presbyterians and Anglicans in those early years. The congregation became a part of the United Church of Canada after union of major national portions of the Methodist, Presbyterian, Congregatio-nal and Union Churches in 1925.”
“Although we continue to maintain an official church board, it has been evident for some time that the congregation of St. Paul’s is no longer large enough to remain viable in Kagawong,” the letter continues.
Ms. Gordon and Mr. Christian, “both current trustees of the official board, were directed by the congregation to look at options for divesting the church property. Specifically, we were asked to enquire about possible interest from the municipality in acquiring the St. Paul’s on the Hill property at a nominal price.”
“St. Paul’s has been a landmark for this community since its very beginnings and an integral part of the social and cultural fabric of the township for nearly 140 years. In recent years, the building’s age and history have also made it a point of interest for people visiting our community-for example, visiting the church is listed as one of the top five things to while visiting Kagawong.”