The Church in Winnipeg – Beginnings
As we near the beginning of 2017, we see that we are beginning a new era in the life of the church here in Winnipeg. While there are some of our members who have been part of this congregation for many years, there are also many others who are relatively new to the congregation and unfamiliar with our history. As we approach the next step toward the future, we want to take this opportunity to share our story – to remind those who have been around for some time and to inform those who are new where we came from, and where we hope, with God’s help, to go. We will do this in three parts.
In early April, 1901, four young men moved into Winnipeg from Carman. All had been members of the Carman congregation, which had started around 1880 (or earlier). Since they had no rented building in which to meet, they met for worship for the first time in their room on Bannetyne Avenue, on April 7, 1901. In August, they started holding gospel meetings on Sunday evenings at Potter’s Hall (on the other side of Louise Bridge), with three of the four young men doing the preaching. They did this for three months. One young woman was baptized. In September, they began using Clement Hall for Sunday worship, which they did for ten months. Members of the church who were already living in Winnipeg and other members who moved here added to their number. Soon, the number of members grew to 25.
In August, 1902, brother Jones came from Beamsville, Ontario to conduct a two-week gospel meeting. A tent was purchased and set up on Ross Avenue, near Princess. Four were baptized into Christ. 1903 saw some setbacks, as a group left to join with the Christian Church/Disciples and several others moved west. By the beginning of 1904, membership had dropped to 16. That same year, several members move into Winnipeg from England and Ontario. Growth continued, so in 1906, the congregation became the Sherbrook Street Church of Christ.
In November, 1932, about half the congregation left and formed the Balmoral congregation (which moved to Osborne Street in 1952). Since this was a sudden and unplanned departure, it appears to have been the result of a disagreement. In 1940, the Sherbrook congregation appointed elders for the first time. This eldership ended in 1957 due to transfer and death. In 1958, the congregation moved to become the Erin Street Church of Christ. In 1960, with the blessing of both the Osborne Street and Erin Street congregations, a third congregation was begun in Windsor Park. For most of the 1960’s, the three congregations maintained their own programs, preachers and buildings. However, with the rise of Unicity (the joining of the several communities that were part of the larger metro-Winnipeg into one city), a similar idea began growing among the congregations. Next: amalgamation.
The Church in Winnipeg – Amalgamation
During the 1960’s, the three Winnipeg congregations (Erin Street, Osborne Street and Windsor Park) were tripling their expenditures. All were paying for buildings, utilities, maintenance and staff. It appeared to be unnecessarily costly. The idea of amalgamating the three churches into one began to grow. In 1969 formal steps began to be taken toward uniting the congregations. In October, a steering committee made up of representatives from all three churches proposed amalgamation into one. The new congregation would be called the Central Church of Christ and would begin meeting January 4, 1970. The three congregations quickly approved the plan.
Questions of leadership and location needed to be addressed. Five elders were appointed and installed in February, eleven deacons later that year. By 1972, there were three ministers: pulpit, education and outreach. (The outreach minister was fully supported from outside the congregation.) Of the three buildings, the Osborne Street building was deemed to offer the best potential for location and expansion. It was renovated and expanded, opening in December of 1971. The Erin Street and Windsor Park buildings were sold (Central held a mortgage on the Windsor Park building.) To help finance the renovations, the congregation borrowed from a congregation in Texas. (This loan was completely discharged early in 1978.)
The idealism and optimism of amalgamation began giving way to some of the challenges of combining three separate groups of people in a relatively short time. Each of the three congregations had its own “culture” – how things were done, how decisions were made, how close members were to one another, how leadership functioned, etc. Expectations of immediate growth and effectiveness were not realized. Communication was, at times, difficult. There were misunderstandings and disagreements, even between the three ministers, as well as between ministers, deacons and elders. In April, 1973, a group left and formed the West Winnipeg congregation. For the next twenty years, the two congregations continued, with an increasing level of co-operation. At one point, late in that time, Central helped provide financial support for the preacher at West Winnipeg. In 1993, the decision was made by the members of the West Winnipeg congregation to sell their building on Burnell Street and join with Central.
With no outstanding debt after 1978, and the growth of the congregation, it was becoming increasingly evident that some long-term future plans would be necessary. Donated money that exceeded operating costs went into an account called “Special Missions.” This became the capital account, also known as the building fund. Proceeds of the sale of the building on Burnell Street also went into this fund. Through careful and astute management, this fund continued to grow. Next: Where We Are Now
The Church in Winnipeg – Where We Are Now
As plans and dreams for Central developed, property was purchased on the corner of Cadboro Road and Waverly. At the time, this land was zoned as agricultural. Attempts were made to have Plan Winnipeg designate this land as residential, but this was rejected by the city.
Those who were part of the congregation remember how crowded the building at Osborne Street was, how difficult it was to park, how dark the classrooms in the basement were, how serious issues arose from the neighborhood and how many problems we had with the building because of its age. We struggled to know what to do to move on and grow. Additional Sunday parking was arranged on the other side of Osborne. But, no real solutions were evident. Then, an offer to purchase the building was made. We had land, a building fund (which was insufficient to put up a new building) and a concept for a building that could someday by constructed. We had been stymied for some time by the question of how to break the cycle we were in: should we sell, save, build or what? The offer to purchase was generous. So, we decided to sell, even though we did not know what we would do or where we would go in the meantime. We agreed that meeting in a temporary space should only be temporary not long term.
It seems amazing to think that in the year after we sold and moved out of our building on Osborne Street, we sold most of our land on Cadboro, as well as purchasing, renovating and moving into our present building on St. Mary’s Road. We believe that God richly blessed this congregation by allowing us to do this, without incurring any debt. The elders and others in the congregation all shared one key conviction, we would not sacrifice the programs and work of the church because of debt. As well, our remaining property on Cadboro Road has now been sold, closing in the past few months.
As we approach 2017, we have enjoyed ongoing growth. We have been blessed by the addition of Christians from all over the world who are now part of our congregational family. Our congregational community (members, children and regular visitors) is well over 300. We believe that it is time for us to step into a new future. This includes additional overflow seating, possibly in the multi-purpose room and/or the balcony (mezzanine). Also, given the size and diversity of the congregation, we recognize there is a need to increase the size of our staff by adding a third minister. There are more needs than can be met by two ministers. We, as the elders, believe we are in a position to extend ourselves financially to do this, without jeopardizing our financial position, by using some funds from our investment account, essentially borrowing from ourselves, to add a third minister to our staff. Growth in the future will offset the present expenditure. We ask for your support, participation and prayers for this.
Written by Wayne Turner, December 2016