Grace started as a stop on the circuit of a team of saddle bag preachers. At the earliest moments of Grace, it functioned as a community of faith led by circuit riders. In 1850 the Nanticoke-Dunnville circuit of the Wesleyan Methodist Church was formed. A team of Methodist preachers who travelled throughout the region offering worship in the small communities they entered. They carried their bible and various tools needed for the job. Prayers, hymns scripture and sermon and on to the next town. In his book Growing In Grace Lorne Sorge notes there were earlier itinerant preachers, part of what he refers to as the saddle bag brigade of the Niagara Circuit. These were preachers who traveled to various stops in the region, preaching, offering communion, and organizing communities of faith.
In any case it was out of the work of Rev. John Hunt and Rev. John Baxter that a congregation in Dunnville began to grow. From preaching in the camps to using space in a public school to renting room above Frank Ramsey’s Menswear Store. By 1853 they built their first chapel on the corner of Alder and Cedar. Leaders of the Methodist congregation started to build on our current location in 1904 with the laying of the cornerstone on Dominion Day that year. The new Grace Methodist Church was dedicated in1905 and it was part of church union in 1925 when the United Church of Canada came into being. Those early congregations, those people of faith who were part of building Grace, were ready for change. I am sure there were times of trepidation. But they worked with what was happening then.
Change is inevitable. Let’s consider, for a moment hymn books. In the glass case by the vestibule to the church are several different hymn books tracing the history of grace from its Methodist roots through the early years of the United Church of Canada to our current day. There is the Blue Hymnal, which was the focus of a furious debate when it was first proposed. The editors of the Hymnal excluded a great many of people’s favourite gospel hymns. There is the Red hymn book which was a joint effort with the Anglican Church in anticipation of another church union. Obviously that union did not happen, but the book stuck around for a few decades. As did the Green Songs for a Gospel people, an effort to include more contemporary music in the 1960s. And of course, Voices United, and then More Voices. It was the volume of letters and petitions to the national church and the New Outlook, the predecessor of the Observer and Broadview, that convinced the church to include a gospel section. I only describe that journey of music to talk about how something so close to the heart of how we worship has changed over time and also helped to transform us as a worshiping people.
We can look at a host of different projects this congregation has taken on over the years. Grace sponsored a refugee family from Southeast Asia in the early 1980s. It has been active and committed to the Canada Foodgrains bank for decades. Grace was also instrumental in starting Meals on Wheels and has been active with Senior Support Services and community dinners. The community dinners were an important part of our ministry to the community for many years prior to the pandemic shutting down so many important services.
We have been dedicated to raising money for several different community efforts such as the Youth Impact Centre and the Food Bank. We have provided support to Bridges and Pride in recent years. We continue to raise money for worthy causes in our community and we show our care and concern to those who are struggling or grieving. And we continue to find ways to express our love. To care for one another, to offer help where we can and as we are able. We are working to sponsor two more families to Canada from Iraq and Syria.
Many things have changed. But some things remain the same. Our love of God, our love of our community and one another, and our desire to come together and offer thanks and praise and to be a difference in this world. To be a reflection of God’s Grace in our community. In the past year we have become an online presence. But we are not alone. We are gathered as we can be right now. We find comfort in knowing we pray, we sing, we reflect with our community as we are able.
Source: Lorne Sorge’s book Growing in Grace