Former pastors to give remembrances at final Duff's United Church service
Duff’s United Church in Walton will have its final service on Sept. 27, marking the end of 150 years of United (or its predeceasing churches) worship in the area.
The story behind Duff’s United, however, is really the story of several different churches, most notable the United Presbyterian Church of North America (Duff’s Presbyterian Church) which started public services in the area in 1865, the New Connexion Methodists who held services in the early 1870s and the Moncrieff Presbyterian Church, which closed in 1972.
In 1862, a man named John Shortreed, who had come to Morris Township in 1859, wrote a letter to Rev. John Gillespie of Stamford, Ontario, who visited the area to help organize a congregation in Walton. This marked the first time public church services were held in the Walton district.
A quarter-acre acre plot of land was purchased for a House of Worship by Charles Murchie for $24. The land was then sold in 1866 to the Presbyterian Church.
In 1867, Rev. John L. Robertson, the first settled minister of congregation, arrived and, soon after Murchie sold 20 acres less the quarter-acre already sold for the church property.
Services continued until 1910, when the United Presbyterian Church of North America joined with the Presbyterian Church of Canada. The church building was moved to Lot 25, Concession 10, Morris Township where it was used as a shed and the manse at the site was used for Presbyterian ministers until 1906.
In early 1870, the New Connexion Methodists were holding church services in Leadbury School, S.S. No. 7, McKillop under a circuit minister from Seaforth. In 1873, they joined the Brussels Methodist circuit and, led by Rev. Robert Davey, erected their own church on the corner of Huron County Road 12 and the 14th concession of McKillop Township for $2,000.
In 1884, the church trustees purchased a half acre of land at the corner of Lot 1, Concession 18, Grey Township to have the church more centrally located and, in September of 1904, the church building, then 32 feet by 48 feet, was loaded on to a wagon moved to the new location.
In 1925, when the Congregational, Presbyterian and Methodist Churches in Canada united, Walton Methodist’s congregation united with Duff’s Presbyterian Church to form one congregation known as Duff’s United Church.
The then-church of the Methodist congregation was sold to the Loyal Orange Order and became a lodge and is now the Walton Community Hall.
Moncrieff Presbyterian Church started off with circuit ministers preaching in schoolhouses or homes. With enough pledged support, however, a church was quickly erected under the supervision of Rev. Watt in February of 1893.
The church, called Bethel, was a source of some discord for the Methodist Conference which decided that Bethel Church was too close to other appointments in the charge which included Henfryn, Whitfields, Roes, Ethel and Cranbrook. The Presbyterians who had helped to build the new church, however, refused to close it and bought it from the conference.
In 1902, the congregation linked up with Knox Presbyterian Church in Cranbrook with the Rev. D.B. McCrae serving as pastor until 1910. He would be at Bethel every other Sunday.
In 1910, the Moncrieff congregation wanted a service in their own community every Sunday so they requested such from the Presbytery. The request was met with resistance from nearby congregations, but the request was granted.
Soon, a new building was necessary and, in 1911, a new church started to take shape that would be open in February of 1912.
In 1925, the vote on Church Union was held and passed and Knox United Church, Moncrieff, became part of a charge with Duff’s United Church in Walton until 1976 when the Moncrieff church closed.
The three congregations listed above came together, as part of the church union or afterwards to form the current congregation of Duff’s United Church (previously Duff’s Presbyterian Church that was built in 1912).
Duff’s United Church held its first service in May 24, 1926.
The church’s manse was built in the decade and its exchange was paid off in 1937.
Clergy for the church, up until 1990, included Rev. E. F. Chandler from 1921-1926, Rev. W. J. Maines until 1931, Rev. Charles Cumming until 1939, Rev. F.A. Gilbert until 1941, Rev. R. Gordon Hazlewood until 1951, Rev. W. M. Thomas until 1961, Rev. Arthur Higginbotham until 1967, Rev. Derwyn Docken until 1975, Rev. Ed Baker until 1980, Rev. Charles Swan until 1985 and Rev. Bonnie Cole Arnal.
The church was named after Rev. Dr. Alexander Duff, a pioneer missionary from the Free Church of Scotland who spread the word of the Gospel throughout Canada that inspired people to bring the word of the Lord to their neighbours throughout the country.
While church services have been offered in the area since 1865, the existing building is 103 years old, having been opened in February of 1912 and then identified as Duff’s Presbyterian church.
The special final ceremony will be held on Sunday and start at 2 p.m. with a social time and meal to follow.
The service is to be presided over by Pastor Sandra Cable, but she said she won’t be saying much as many people have come forward to help make the service memorable.
“There are several former ministers coming to share their experiences and history with the church,” Cable said. “They are all more than happy to share a few minutes in the service.”
Former leaders of worship that will be sharing messages include Rev. Derwyn Docken, Rev. Charles A. Sawn, Rev. Bonnie Cole-Arnal, Rev. Randy Banks (who will be running the children’s time), and Rev. Ed Baker.
Over the past several weeks, the organizers of the event have also been receiving notices from members of the community, both past and present, who want to share their own Duff’s historical moments and the uptake on that has been great, according to Cable.
“We have over a dozen people so far who want to share their memories [including former clergy],” she said. “It’s all scheduled already and in the order of service.”
Some of the people sharing their memories, either in person or through letters, include Minister Joan Tuchlinsky, Keith Wilbee, Patty Banks, Neil McGavin and Dr. Rev. Peter Kugba-Nyande.
Community member Jo-Ann McDonald, the correspondent for the Walton area for The Citizen, will also be sharing a special message/sermon that explains all about Duff’s United Church, according to Cable. The service was presented earlier this year at the church, however the organizers are expecting a bigger crowd now.
The end of the service will be marked by a special version of Leonard Cohen’s 1984 song “Hallelujah”, which has found lasting success through covers, re-written for Duff’s church and the occasion by Gloria Wilbee who will perform the song accompanied by Glenda Morrison on piano and Sean Mitchell on violin.
Playing the congregation out will be Jamie Mitchell on the bagpipes with “Amazing Grace”.
Just prior to Wilbee’s performance of “Hallelujah”, Chair of Presbytery and local minister, Rev. Gary Clark will perform the final ceremony of the church, marking it as closed.
After the ceremony, refreshments will be served in the church to give visitors a chance to meet, talk and remember their time at Duff’s.
“It won’t be a meal, there will be snacks and treats, those kinds of things,” Cable said.
The Duff’s Church Band will also be featured at the event playing before and during the service. Cable explained that the group is made up of members of the church.
“The band includes people from the Duff’s community and they have a nice band and a nice sound that they are very proud of,” Cable said. “It should be fantastic.”
The Duff’s United Church Women will be holding their final business meeting on Oct. 7.
The group, which held its inaugural meeting in January of 1962, held a final dinner earlier this month featuring special guests including Pauline Bennett, who was at the initial meeting.
The details of that first meeting were re-enacted by members of the UCW and followed by members sharing memories of their time with the UCW.
The final meeting of the group will be held to finish out any pending or ongoing business the organization is involved in.
The closure of the meeting marks the end of a group of women connected to the church that goes as far back as 1885 when the Ladies Aid group was formed (but weren’t called as such until 1900). Other organizations include the Women’s Foreign Missionary Society, which was formed in 1908 and the Women’s Missionary Society that followed it.