| Jun 05, 2019

With the closing of St. Paul’s United Church a couple of years ago, the Free Methodist Church became the only remaining church in Harrowsmith.

That would likely be a surprise to the founder of the Harrowsmith Free Methodist, C.V. Fairbairn. In a book called “the Battle was the Lord’s: a history of the Free Methodist Church in Canada”, written by John Wilson Sigsworth and published in 2016. Sigsworth describes how the church came to be established in Verona in the late 19th century and spread to Petworth, Holleford, Deyo’s Corners, Desert Lake, Cole Lake, and Wagarville, and other nearby locations in Lennox and Addington.

But Fairbairn, who had been instrumental in establishing the church in some of the other communities, but when he organised what Sigsworth calls a ‘siege’ of Harrowsmith in November of 2018, he was met with “the greatest organised resistance we have ever encountered”.

Fairbairn needed to bring a petition, signed by 250 people, just to be able to rent a town hall in order to hold a meeting in November of 1918.

Fairbairn’s second ‘siege of Harrowsmith’ in the spring of 1919, resulted in ‘a class of 18 people’ being established. The former Presbyterian Church on Harrowsmith Road was purchased and the congregation gained strength steadily over the years, remaining in that location until the late 1980’s.

In preparation for the church celebrating its 100th anniversary at a special event this Sunday (June 9) and at concerts throughout the summer and fall, one of the parishioners, Maureen Adams, undertook the task of combing through the minutes of church meetings, going back to 1919. She has pulled the highlights of the minutes for display boards that will be set up on Sunday, with roughly one for each decade.

The boards illustrate the change in the value of money over 100 years. For example, in 1923, a motion was passed “give the Budget System a trial and endeavour to raise $16.00/week for the pastor”. Prices have risen steadily over the years. In 1954, an oil furnace was purchased for the parsonage at a cost of $350, including installation. In 1971, the parson’s salary was raised to $95 a week.

The boards, from the very beginning and through to the present day, also show that the founding families of the church are still very much active in its progress. Of the 6 transferees from Verona and the 12 “probationary members who formed the church on April 6, 1919, names such as Snider, Sigsworth, Orser, Babcock, Knox and Keech are prominent. Those names are still common, both locally and regionally.

In the 1950’s there was a heated debate about whether to purchase a musical instrument for the church. In June, 1954 a vote was taken and 17 voted for and 13 against a purchase. In August, 1957, another vote was taken: “32 votes were counted, 26 against and 6 in favour of the motion. One couple resigned their positions in the church,” is how the display board describes that vote. In 1959, there was a reversal, 17 voted for and 13 were against, but this time it was decided that an organ should be purchased. However, the church needed a new furnace and the organ would have to wait. One year later an organ was purchased for the church, at a cost of $1095, and a $25 piano was also purchased for the Sunday School room.

By the 1980’s the old church was too small. At a meeting to decided how to proceed, a number of options for renovations or other changes were considered, and this time everyone in attendance, 21 people, all agreed that a new build was the best option. Over time the current site, not far to the east of the old church, came to house the modern church and gymnasium that serves the church community and the community at large to this day.

As Sunday approaches, preparations are being made for the commemoration events, and Maureen Adams is busily preparing the final boards.

“What I hope you will see in our history, is the rock solid faith in God, perseverance and commitment of the people to values they hold dear, has sustained the ministry of Harrowsmith Free Methodist Church through its 100 years in the community,” she said of her efforts.

The events this Sunday will provide an opportunity to reminisce and look forward.

C.V. Fairbairn would be happy to see that, after the initial resistance to the siege of Harrowsmith, the local Free Methodist Church continues to thrive and grow.

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