Central United Church is a place of many memories, some personal and private, never to be revealed, others common to the community but liable to be lost in the mists of time, unless some record be made of them.
This following description of the church sanctuary, as it was in the year 1985, offers a verbal picture of the place of worship and its special and unique characteristics. It is not a history of the congregation, which would need expert research and imaginative but realistic reconstruction of past events, deeds and human characters. Nevertheless, if you will take time to sit and pray here, and then "walk about the walls of Zion" with an open heart and mind, the things you see here may kindle your imagination of the past.
Elizabeth Goudge, the English novelist, shares the opinion of others of likespirit, that past happenings (especially joyful or traumatic ones) leave their imprinton the walls of the places where they occurred. This is, perhaps, particularly true of old churches, in which one spontaneously lowers one's voice andbecomes aware, as it were, of invisible presences, the influence of the generations whohave been here before us, making their marriage vows here, bringing their children for baptism, findinginspiration, courage and direction in times of doubt or perplexity, discovering the Presence of God in the hour of bereavement.
May this brief survey of the sanctuary of this church, and something of its history, bring you into a deeper awareness of the grace and greatness of the God "in Whom we live and move and have our being".
The first Methodist preaching took place in the Windsor area on August 15, 1804, whenNathan or Nathanial (?) Bangs, a saddle-bag preacher sent to Upper Canada by the New YorkConference of the American Methodists, gathered together a small company of seekers after Christand constituted the first Methodist society, as it was called. We are the spiritual descendants of that early 19th Century meeting. Our present church is the second Methodist Church built by this congregation in the city, the former sanctuary on Windsor Avenue having burnt down in 1904, exactly one hundred years after Nathan Bangs'arrival here. The plaque on the North wall of our church links us with that fire and consequent removal to our present site:
"In loving memory of Rev. Alfred Brown, D.D. 1854-1941, presented by his family. Beloved pastor of Windsor Avenue Methodist Church, destroyed by fire 1904 and leader of that congregation when this replacement site was chosen and this sanctuary built and opened in 1906as Central Methodist Church." "One generation shall laud thy works to another and declare thy mighty acts."
In 1904, the new site was far out of town and, unbelievable today, some members then opposed the location as being inaccessible. To mark the dedication of the new sanctuary, a great ten-day preaching mission was conducted here by the famous Crossley and Hunter team of evangelists, and it is recorded that between 1,200 and 1,400 people committed their lives to Christ during those momentous days.Architecturally, our church follows what is known as the Akron Plan, with its imposing double entrance doors and domed roof. It is a classical Victorian Methodist preaching-place, of which there are many similar examples in Britain and U.S.A. The interior plan makes the pulpit the focal point, embraced by the half-circle of pews onthe main floor and in the galleries. The Communion Table stands below the pulpit and was originally fronted by a long, brass Communion rail--where penitents came to kneel as they surrendered their lives to God, and members and seekers kneltto receive the elements of the Sacrament
Central Methodist Church was intended as the meeting place for all the Methodists of Essex County, and membership was open(in the words of John Wesley) to "all who desired to flee from their sins through faith in Christ and evidenced the same in life andconduct". In Wesley's understanding of the gospel, there were four universals: all have sinned; all may be saved; all may know they are saved;all may be saved to the uttermost. Methodism thus denied the validity of the Calvinist doctrine of predestination: that some are doomed to salvation and some to damnation, and rejected the Roman Catholicdogma that divine pardon may only be mediated through an episcopally-ordained priesthood.
However, the gospel was proclaimed and put to music by Wesley and the early Methodist preachers. Methodists loved to sing their joyful hymns, so that John Richard Greene, the English historian, could write:"The Wesleys turned England into a nest of singing birds". The place of singing in the worship of the churchis to be seen in the placing of the choir seats in concert arrangement--for the primary function of the choiris to lead the singing of the congregation.
The great, glass crowned dome of the sanctuary brings the light of heaven into the church and,at the same time, augments the music by amplifying and distributing sound. The merest whisper into the dome from below will be clearly heard.
The church organ, recently completely renovated, encased in its magnificent woodwork, its pipes in bronze,stands behind the serried ranks of choir seats, and the wide rostrum is all carpeted in blue.
The entire colour scheme of the sanctuary was artistically planned by Mrs. Beth Wallace, a professional Interior Decorator, as a personal gift. Unlike a typical Anglican cathedral or parish church, the Methodist Chapelwas designed essentially as a preaching place where every member of the congregation would be withinsight and hearing of the preacher. Hence, there is the central pulpit or rostrum as mentioned earlier,the pews on the ground floor curved in an arc around the pulpit, and the gallery extending around the three walls of the rectangle, with pews rising in tiers. Thus, the congregation is seated like a family sitting aroundthe fireplace at home. John Wesley, when asked how he accounted for the power of his preaching, replied:"I set myself on fire and the people come to see me burn..."
The Holy Table, with Cross and Open Bible, point to the ancient-linked, liturgical traditions of the Christian Church:the celebration of Holy Communion and the proclamation of the Everlasting Gospel. The Font contains the water of the Sacrament of Baptism, the rite by which believers are brought within the covenant of the grace of God "unmerited and free."
Note the emblem of The United Church of Canada embossed on the forefront of the Holy Table. This incorporates the insignia of the three Denominations which united together in 1925: the Open Bible of the Congregational Church; the Descent of the Dove forthe Methodists; the Burning Bush for the Presbyterians. These symbolize, in turn, the Word of God, the gift of the Holy Spirit, and the presence of the Living God. The Cross superimposed above the other symbols, with the Alpha and Omega below it, affirms Christas the Lord of history--"I am the First and the Last, saith the Lord God, which is and which was and which is to come, the Almighty." (Revelation 1:8) Encircling the whole crest are words from the prayer of Jesus for the unity ofHis Church--UT OMNES UNUM SINT (THAT ALL MAY BE ONE)--for The United Church was founded in the high hope of becoming also auniting church in Canada--unhappily, a hope as yet unfulfilled
There is a hidden memorial which no one sees or can see and which was discovered during the recent renovation and redecoration of the sanctuary in 1980. When the main flooring was taken up for examination, the workmen found sections of charred timbers evidently brought fromthe former Methodist Church on Windsor Avenue and used for the construction of the present building. When you walk the floor of the sanctuary, then you are literally walking "where the saints have trod"--on the very boards where the early Methodists in Windsor met to pray and worship.When you "lift up your eyes on high", observe the chosen texts inscribed on the high arch above the organ--THIS IS THE DAY WHICH THE LORD HAS MADE--calling the Sunday congregation to remember the Presence of God in their midst. On the northern arch you may read--LO, I AM WITH YOU ALWAYS--perhaps the greatest of the promises of our Lord. The words on the southern arch say--MY GRACE IS SUFFICIENT FOR YOU. On the arch to the west (towards Ouellette Avenue) the words of faithful expectation--FOR NOTHING IS IMPOSSIBLE WITH GOD--and on the wall below the central balcony--THINK ON THESE THINGS, WHATSOEVER THINGS ARE TRUE, HONEST, JUST, PURE AND LOVELY.
If a Sunday should ever come when the appointed preacher fails to arrive, the people could make their own sermonby reading and contemplating these shining texts from Holy Scripture.
We cannot pretend the windows of Central United Church are great works of art, yet they are interesting examples of Victorian Methodist stained glass.They also record the names of some older church societies now superseded and forgotten. The window behind the south balcony has a Maltese Cross abovethe words LIFT UP and the words LOOK UP above it. The left and right, respectively note the letters E and L. These stand for the Epworth League,once a nation-wide fellowship of young Methodists (which later became the Young People's Union (YPU). Epworth was, and still is, a name of great historicalsignificance for Methodists, for it is the name of the village where John and Charles Wesley's father was Anglican rector. There, when the rectory caught fireone stormy night, the boy John was forgotten (it was a large brood of children in the Wesley family) and was suddenly seen standing at the window of his bedroom.A neighbour got a ladder up in the nick of time, and John was saved. The traumatic experience left a lasting mark in his mind so thatever after he believed himself to have been "a branch plucked from the burning bush" with a unique mission to accomplish in the world
On the west balcony, the window depicts the Sunday School symbols of Cross, Anchor and Open Bible, surrounded by a scroll bearing the words FAITH, HOPE AND CHARITY.Not a particularly imaginative piece of work, or likely to attract the attention of a child's eye...
The north balcony window represents the Descent of the Dove, a scene drawn, of course, from the record of the baptism of Jesus by John the Baptist in the River Jordan, when the Lord heardthe voice from heaven proclaiming - "This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased". (Matthew 3:17) The most elaborate window is seen under the west balcony andportrays the encounter between the Master and the woman of Samaria, and the words - THE GIFT OF GOD IS ETERNAL LIFE THROUGH JESUS CHRIST OUR LORD (Romans 6:23). One could wishthe saying of our Lord on this occasion had been inscribed here - THEY THAT WORSHIP GOD MUST WORSHIP HIM IN SPIRIT AND IN TRUTH. I WAS GLAD WHEN THEY SAID UNTO ME,LET US GO INTO THE HOUSE OF THE LORD (Psalm 122:1) are the words in the window under the north balcony - presented "in love and gratitude by Mrs. Meredith Conn."Placed beneath the opposite (south) balcony is the window given "To the glory of God and in loving memory of Mr. & Mrs. Thomas J. Elliott", along with the inscription -"Blessed are the dead which die in the Lord". (Rev. 13:14)
The war memorial takes the form of a Remembrance Corner where the north and east walls meet under the north balcony. Picturing a knight brandishing a torch of freedomwith the one word COURAGE below, in a stained-glass window, the names of the dead in the two world wars of 1914-18 and 1939-45 are recorded. The Canadian flag and the Union Jack stand on either side of the memorial.
In the corresponding corner to the north of the rostrum is the Pioneer Corner. In Canada's Centennial Year, 1967, "The Sower" window was placed here in gratitude to God for the rich heritage bequeathed to us by all theChristian men and women who have worshipped the Lord in this place in the years gone by. Designed in Canterbury, England, the window contains the birds and fruits of Essex County. Some words of St. Paul are opposite - "I planted, Apollo watered, but GOD gave the increase". (Cor. 3:5)
The so-called Christian flag and the American Stars and Stripes flank the corner. (The American flag is a reminder of the historic ties which bind us to American Methodism.)
The Memorial Book, dedicated at the same time as this Pioneer Corner in 1967, contains the names of all those who have given special gifts and endowments to our church.
Beneath the south balcony are the Honour Rolls of the serving men and women of the congregation -
In the centre: FOR KING AND COUNTRY, MEMBERS OF CENTRAL UNITED CHURCH WHO HAVE VOLUNTEERED FOR ACTIVE SERVICEWITH CANADA'S FIGHTING FORCES.
And on either side: THE HONOUR ROLL, CENTRAL METHODIST CHURCH, EXPEDITIONARY FORCES AND EXTRA ROLL OF HONOUR,CENTRAL METHODIST CHURCH.
So the Church militant here on earth remembers the Church triumphant in heaven and echoes the prayer - "Oh may I triumph so,when all my labour's past".
Since 1965, the following from this congregation were ordained to the full-time service of Jesus Christ:
May God continue to use and bless them and those to whom they minister.
The Reverend Richmond Stuart, upon whose knowledge of British Methodism I drew when this was written, has morerecently joined "The Heavenly Host". Since he is now with Christ, "Rich" cannot be very far away.
The Reverend Donald C. Wilson, Minister Emeritus
Central United Church, Windsor, Ontario, Canada
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