Every week, I share an excerpt from my Great Aunt’s book, As the Story is Told: A History of Morpeth and Community, which was printed in 1986. This week we move into the history of another church built in Morpeth – ironically the same year as the United Church.
History of St. John’s Church
Prepared for Centennial Year.
For about twenty years, the members of the Anglican Communion in the village and community, west of the village, worshipped in the Town Hall, Morpeth. At the Easter Vestry Meeting held in Trinity Church, Howard, in 1876, it was decided to erect a Church in the village. A building committee consisting of the Reverend John Downie, B. D., Jas. M. Smith, M.D., J. C. Nation and Joseph Patterson were appointed to look after the work. They accepted plans which were submitted by Messrs. Lloyd and Pearce, of Detroit, Michigan. The contract was let to Mr. John Smith, of Morpeth. The Church cost $6000.00 including all furnishings and windows.
The Corner Stone was laid by the Masonic Lodge of Chatham in June, 1877, and the Church was opened in January, 1878, and dedicated at the same time. The mortgage was lifted in February, 1881, and the Church was consecrated on June 8th, 1882 by the Right Reverend I. Hellmuth, Lord Bishop of the Diocese, assisted in the service by Reverend Canon Falls, Amherstburg; William Davis, Rural Dean of Thamesville; and the Rector, John Downie, B.D.
In 1889 the drive-sheds were erected at St. John’s Church and in 1902 the Rectory was rebuilt. The original Rectory was built when Reverend C. Johnson was Rector. He built, at his own expense, a home on a lot on Erie Street, south of Morpeth. This property was later purchased by the Parish for the Rectory.
The St. John’s Women’s Guild was an active part of the Church and in 1905 defrayed the expenses connected with the enlarging of the Chancel of St. John’s Church. The pulpit which was a high affair was remodelled at this time and moved from the north side of the Church to its position on the south side, and a new carpet was also bought for the Chancel and Sanctuary.
On Good Friday, 1913, the steeple was blown down and this was replaced in 1914 with the present square tower.
On March 1st, 1922, the work of installing electric lighting fixtures in St. John’s Church was completed and the hydro power was turned on for the first time on Friday, March 10th, 1922.
There is one memorial tablet in the Church to the memory of Mr. Henry Stewart, who was for many years Warden and Sunday School Superintendent, and who contributed much to the life and prosperity of St. John’s in the years gone by. What the Church of Christ on earth needs is more consecrated laymen like him, who count the time spent in the service of the Master of His Church, gain to themselves.
The Jubilee Year of the Church was celebrated in 1927 with special services on Sunday, June 12th and Monday, June 13th. The speakers for the Sunday services were the Rector, Reverend Ernest Jacques, B. A. and Reverend A. C. Calder, L.L.B., M.L.A. For the closing service on Monday, Reverend M. B. Hawkins was the guest preacher.
The seating for the Church was changed from two side aisles to the present centre aisle during the time of Reverend T. James.
The Women’s Auxiliary and the Altar Guild were formed in 1950 and became a very vital part of the Church. As a result of their work many improvements were made. A furnace was installed, new linens and hangings for the Church were made, and cupboards were built in the Sacristy.
The Parish Hall, adjoining the Church, was completed and dedicated on September 8, 1963, by the Right Reverend George N. Luxton, D. D., L.L.D., Bishop of Huron.
In 1968 Clearville Church was closed and Trinity Howard was made a Memorial Chapel. At this time St. John’s Morpeth was joined with the Church of the Advent, Ridgetown and the Church of the Redeemer, Highgate. Since the Rectory was no longer needed, it was sold.
The following are excerpts taken from the letter recently received from Gordon B. Softley of Florida, son of Reverend E. Softley, who was Rector at St. John’s from 1901-1908.
May 1, 1977
…My father brought my mother to Morpeth in 1901, as a bride. I was born on March 11th, 1902, in the new red brick Rectory near the Church. My father had charge of St. John’s Morpeth, which was built in 1877, under the rectorship of Canon Downey, as well as the parishes of Trinity Howard, and St. David’s Clearville.
…My father used to conduct a mission once a week at Rondeau, or the Eau, as we called it.
…I recall some of the parishioners—Henry Stewart and Lizzie Walters who served as my God-parents. I still have the Certificate of Baptism dated 1902—a long time ago,–Will Trudgen—Mrs. Lent—Mrs. Stammers—Josie Bury—Desmonds—the William Sifton family—Smiths—Mr. Cattle, the harness-maker—Mary Kimmerly—the Cornwalls (my father baptized Margaret Cornwall)–the Early’s—Alfred Spencer—I could go on.
…We left Morpeth in 1908.
…I am afraid I couldn’t make it for the 100th Anniversary, but will be there in Spirit and you good people will always remain in my heart and memory.
Gordon B. Softley.