It’s now or never! While my memory is (mostly) still intact, I would like to revisit my experiences and impressions of the Deep River Community Church as it existed in the 1950’s and 60’s. Only a handful of people remain in our congregation who were here in the early days. This will be a personal memoir of the many fine people who shaped this church and helped it grow physically and spiritually.
June Macdonald, 2011
I was raised in the Anglican Church, and when I came to Deep River in 1950, I joined the congregation of St. Barnabus. When Frank and I were married in 1953, he was already a member of Deep River Community Church, and since he had no desire to become an Anglican, I decided to join Deep River Community Church. My first contact with the church came from Rev. Vanderburgh, their current minister. He came to our home for a pastoral visit shortly after our marriage to make arrangements for me to join the church. I was very impressed with his friendly and welcoming manner, and was looking forward to having him as my pastor. However, shortly after his visit, he was killed in a tragic car accident, and was deeply mourned by the congregation. So, my first few months in Deep River Community Church in the newly built church building in which we still worship were as part of a congregation searching for a new minister, including listening to several ministers who came to preach for a call. One man seemed to stand out as a unanimous choice, and so it was that Rev. A.G. (Fred) Skelly became the new minister in early 1954.REV. A.G. SKELLYWhat a great choice he turned out to be. Under his guidance, Deep River Community Church blossomed and grew. His Irish brogue, his quick wit, and his fine sermons endeared him to our hearts. Since the church was composed almost exclusively of young people, including many with growing families, we naturally had many baptismal services and the Sunday school grew by leaps and bounds. Another of Mr. Skelly’s assets was his wife, Margaret. She was the quintessential minister’s wife – compassionate, personable, with a beautiful smile which seemed to come from her heart. Together, they made a fine statement of a truly caring Christian couple. At one point they came to the Women’s Church Circle to show slides of a trip they had just taken to Europe. As they showed the final slide, they claimed it was the most beautiful spot they had seen on their travels. It turned out to be a view of the Ottawa River and Laurentian hills, taken from the campus of downtown Deep River. It was a sad time when the Skelly’s left our church in 1959 to take on a much larger congregation in Toronto.REV. R.C. (BOB) PLANTRev. Bob Plant’s inaugural service was memorable. It was also a turning point in his career in the ministry and in his life. His background had been in journalism, with a stint in the military as an adjutant somewhere along the line. When he entered the ministry it was into the Baptist federation. Coming to an ecumenical church such as Deep River Community Church was a big change, especially since he had decided to change over his allegiance to the United Church of Canada at the same time. At his inaugural, he was accompanied by several of his friends in the ministry, all of whom spoke of their friendship for and their admiration of Bob Plant. He was indeed a force to be reckoned with. Perhaps due to his background of journalism, his sermons were a strong point. I’m not sure he stuck to the lectionary (perhaps it wasn’t mandatory) but he often preached a series of sermons on one subject. One series I remember well was about the lives of the composers of some of our oldest and most-loved hymns. He was a big man with a larger than life personality and a devotion to the ministry that included his own congregation and extended to include a counseling service to all who lived in this area. To accommodate his expanded ministry, a study with a separate entrance was added to the manse. Rev. Bob packed them in on Sundays, and soon there was a need for two services and a junior minister was hired to be a youth minister and to help with pastoral care. Rev. Mervin Sargent was our first associate minister and did a fine job. He conducted the service at 9.30 a.m. and Mr. Plant took the 11 a.m. service.
Mrs. Plant (Christine) was also a huge asset to her husband’s ministry. They had three children – Susan, Philip, and Pam. Christine had a lovely singing voice, and I’ll always remember her rendition on Christmas morning of the lovely old hymn “Good Christians Rejoice and Greet This Happy Morn”. I’m sure that their time in Deep River was cherished by the family as they had been informed by her physician that Christine had a slow-growing but inoperable brain tumour. The Bob Plant years added immeasurably to the growth of our church.CHURCH MUSICMusic has always played an important part in my life, so I was very happy when I became a member in 1953 to find that my new church home had a wonderful music program. Fred Glendinning was the organist and choir director. He had a large choir to direct, probably about 24 singers. They “made a joyful noise” every Sunday when they rose to sing the anthem. It seemed customary in those days to have either a solo part inserted into the anthem or to have a soloist do the musical ministry. The choir had many very talented singers, so we heard a wide variety of music. I can’t recall all the soloists but some names which come to mind are Dora Dent, Jean Baines, Nora Murdoch, Evelyn Bedford, Mary Moore, all of whom were sopranos, and Peter Spears, tenor, and Bob Graham, bass. When Mr. Glendinning retired as organist, Alex Moore took over. After his tragic death, John Wilkinson was hired and just before we moved away in 1967, Ruth Stewart took charge of the music. The service began with the sung doxology and ended with a sung benediction.WOMEN’S CHURCH CIRCLEBy the time I joined the Women’s Circle, it had been going for a number of years and already had a large membership from among the women of the congregation. We had monthly meetings which began with a short worship service followed by a business meeting, after which we had some kind of program. This took the form of a speaker, a film, or a discussion of special interest to women. To close we had a social time with tea or coffee. Along with that, we formed neighbourhood groups which met periodically to make items for our annual Christmas bazaar. Those women who were talented crafters helped others (like myself) to create some interesting items. Since most of us were stay-at-home wives and mothers, while our hands were busy creating, we covered the usual range of subjects near and dear to the hearts of homemakers.
The two major events in the Circle year were the Christmas bazaar and the annual congregational dinner. The dinner was a sit-down affair, with turkey and all the trimmings, and a wonderful selection of pies for dessert. By the time I became involved in the Circle, the congregation had grown to the point where we had to offer two sittings for the dinner. The bazaar consisted of a sale of knitting, sewing, and crafts, a sale of homemade baking, and a tea room where one could sit down with friends and enjoy small sandwiches, cakes and a cup of tea. Needless to say, both these endeavors took much planning and a great deal of work in their execution.
I was a Circle member from 1954 until 1967, and during that time I served on the executive in several roles. The two most memorable were kitchen convener and program convener. The kitchen convener organized the congregational dinner, which meant innumerable hours on the phone soliciting help with food, serving, setting up and taking down the tables, publicity, and of course, cleaning up. It also meant directing a team of women all of whom had their own ideas about how things should be done! It was a crash course in leadership skills for anyone taking on the job. I learned to make lists, be diplomatic, listen with an open mind, etc. If anything, program convener was even more challenging. Trying to find interesting speakers for nine meetings each year was not an easy task. (I’m sure Rev. Andy will sympathize with this).
The bazaar was our biggest effort of the year, and the money raised went to help the local church and to fulfill our mission commitment. It became even bigger once the Christian Education Centre opened in 1959. The sewing, crafts, and baking were displayed in the basement and the tea room was in the upper section. This room would be decorated beautifully with a Christmas theme. The tea tables had their own lovely handmade centrepieces, which were very much in demand, usually pre-sold even before the afternoon began. Fortunately, we had among our members some very talented, artistic women. Three who stand out in my mind and who were often in charge of decorations were Barbara Ditmar, CarolShuttleworth, and Theda MacGregor.These bazaars were very popular with the townsfolk and there would be line-ups outside waiting for the doors to open. The Circle was an important part of my life and I made many friends through my membership in it. Working with people like JeanCameron, Zebba Pritchard, Margaret Mitchell, Joan Cooper, and Jean Jervis enriched my life.In taking on some of the leadership roles, I learned many skills which have served me all my life. And that’s not including the recipes I acquired from all the good cooks in the church. My dog-eared copy of Jean Cameron’s recipe for boiled mayonnaise has been used hundreds of times. Thanks, Jean, and thanks to all the women with whom I had the privilege to associate over those years. BUILDING THE CHRISTIAN EDUCATION CENTREBy the mid-1950’s, it was very apparent that our church needed more room. Our Sunday school, held in the church basement, was seriously overcrowded. We needed meeting rooms, places for church groups to assemble, and a more pleasant space in which to hold dinners and other community events. Our Sunday school superintendent, LesBeamish, was the driving force to build a Christian Education Centre on the available land next to the church. The big question was how to go about funding such a building. A committee was formed to investigate ways and means. They came up with a proposal which was received with mixed feelings by the congregation. They recommended using a professional fund raising company to help with the campaign. The Wells Fundraising company had been successful in helping other churches with their fundraising and came with excellent credentials. Some of the congregation opposed this mode, stating that we should be able to handle our own campaign, thus saving the cost of hiring professionals.It must have been put to some kind of vote within the congregation because approval was given to hiring the Wells people and in due course, they provided some of their personnel to draw up a campaign, provide the publicity, and help organize a fundraising dinner. The dinner was held in the cafeteria at the Chalk River AECL laboratories on a Saturday night. Members of the congregation acted as hosts, with each host inviting five other couples or individuals. Frank and I were hosts, and it was our responsibility to see that our invitees were introduced and made to feel comfortable. We were seated at long tables and the dinner was catered by Crawley and McCracken. The speeches and appeals which followed must have gone well as the necessary funds were pledged and building was soon underway. The CEC was opened in 1959, and solved our space problems and has proven over the years to be the best of investments.CANADIAN GIRLS IN TRAINING (CGIT)I had no experience in youth groups so it was with much trepidation that I agreed, in the mid-1960’s, to become a CGIT leader. Luckily for me, my group of young women was understanding of my lack of experience and together we made our way along the road of the Christian experience. I can’t remember all of their names, but some I do remember are Sandra Spears, Susan Plant, Mary Morison, and Jill Smedley (now Jill Mark).Barbara Pitt was the superintendent, and Bernice Blimke was another leader. Each year, at Christmas, the CGIT group presented a candlelight carol service. The service was drawn up by the CGIT national headquarters, so our local group just had to follow the printed-out order of service. We wore our navy and white middies, ties, and navy skirts, and sat in the choir loft from where we led the singing and read the Christmas message. The service ended with the girls and leaders processing down the aisle holding their lighted candles.THE SANCTUARY COMMITTEEAround the end of the 50’s, a group was organized to provide flower arrangements for the Communion table. They would also set up the church for Sunday service, polish the brass and be responsible for the hangings for the lecterns. Our first group of six women included Theda MacGregor, Barbara Ditmar, Shirley Janes, Carol Shuttleworth, Trudy Wallace, and me. Our first meeting was a workshop on flower arranging, conducted by Barbara’s mother. With only a dozen daffodils, she demonstrated how to make two lovely arrangements in our brass vases by placing the blooms artistically and backing them with the daffodil leaves. This turned out to be very useful knowledge, for those times when flowers were expensive and hard to find. We began an association with Mrs. Hocking (who would later establish Pinecrest Florists) who would order the flowers for us and deliver them to the church on Saturday. In the narthex, we had a chart of the Sundays for the current year and the congregation was invited to provide memorial flowers. In the summer months we used flowers from our members’ lovely gardens.After the service we took the flowers to sick and shut-ins (sometimes the hardest part, as our congregation was young in those days). We had a little card printed which stated that the flowers had heard the prayers, the devotions, and the music of the service and came with the blessings of our congregation.
In 1967, Frank and I moved to Ottawa where we lived for 23 years, returning as retirees to Deep River in 1989.
Almost 60 years after first joining Deep River Community Church, I am once again a member of its congregation. The church continues to carry on its ecumenical work, as laid out by its founding members. It has served this community very well, and hopefully will continue to do so for many years to come. From its location on the hill, it overlooks our town, the magnificent river, and the everlasting hills beyond. Thanks be to God.