HISTORY OF ST. JOHN'S
Georgetown was surrounded by "interminable wilderness" when the first circuit rider for the Wesleyan Methodist church came this way to preach in 1839. For years, these intrepid young preachers rode on horseback from village to village, preaching to waiting worshippers, all of them recent immigrants, assembled in homes and cottages. The Rev. Egerton Ryerson sparked a "great spiritual revival" in Williamsburg (Glen Williams) in 1840, and preached in Georgetown the following year.
We know that Benajah Williams deeded his Glen property over to the Methodist Episcopal congregation "with a shaky signature" in 1840. We also know that the Methodists bought a property on the "Norval Road" for 5 shillings in 1846. Both groups put up wood frame buildings; the Georgetown church also had a cemetery out back.
Read a description published October 6, 1841 in the Christian Guardian here.
These Methodists addressed each other as Brother and Sister. They talked a lot about holiness, they loved to sing the hymns of Charles Wesley, Isaac Watt, and others, all of which they knew by heart, and they prayed passionately. Men sat on the left, women and children on the right. To take communion, you needed a special ticket signed by an elder, signifying your worthiness to attend the "love feast". Our archives contain two such tickets dated 1884, belonging to George and Margaret Kennedy, and another pair belonging to the Cleave family.
George Kennedy, whose family founded Georgetown, was on the building committee which raised $8,000 and built the brick building on Guelph Street in Georgetown in 1880. Read a description of its opening services in November 1880 here. There were two ministers, supported by 130 families. On Sundays, you attended a morning prayer meeting, then the worship service, Sunday School in the afternoon, and another service at night. The Ladies' Aid was active, and the sermon topic of the first anniversary service in 1881 was "Woman, Her Work and Worth."
In 1902, the Glen church celebrated "splendid improvements": bricking, electric lights, a new roof, interior decor and "seats of the latest design." A Baptist male quartet performed The Little Brick Church in the Glen for the occasion. The Willing Helpers served supper, and contributed $286 for renovations.
Membership in both congregations grew steadily. In 1925 the Glen Williams church affiliated with the new United Church of Canada. The Georgetown congregation of over 300 was joined that same year by 120 more from Knox Presbyterian. It may have seemed like a bad omen when lightning toppled the tall spire over the west entry shortly afterwards. But Georgetown United was a busy place. There were 2 CGIT's, an Epworth League for young people and an Argonaut Club, attended by a young Gordon Alcott.
Old photos of the Georgetown sanctuary show the Union Jack and red ensign on the left, a central pulpit, two side aisles, and a huge pipe organ. Apparently the young fellow enlisted to pump it occasionally had to be wakened in his hiding place behind it, when it was time for another hymn.
In 1944, a major sanctuary renovation was financed with $11,000 in donations, plus a bequest of about $3,000 that was made back in 1925. By 1949, as the nursery started to fill up with infant baby boomers, the church renamed itself St. John's, and added an assembly hall, stage, and kitchen. In 1952, the stained glass windows were dedicated in memory of J.W. Kennedy. In 1957, superintendent Ernie Forgrave reported an all-time-record Sunday School attendance of 321 children, who studied under 57 teachers.
In 1959, the Glen added a two-storey rear addition. When a stroke felled the Rev. Roy Irwin in 1965, student minister Tom Forgrave took over, apparently the only person ever ordained from either of our founding congregations.
In 1969, Georgetown renovated again, changing the organ, the choir loft, and the carpeting.
In 1971, a long-standing friendship was sealed when the Glen Williams and Georgetown church amalgamated to form one congregation with one governing board, shared staff, and two places of worship.
In 1977, a second storey was added above Celebration Hall in Georgetown, and in 1979 St. John’s bought back property from the school board when Chapel Street School behind the Georgetown church was demolished. This land had been sold to the school board in 1894 for $175, when the old cemetery was moved. It is now a parking lot. In a 1992 renovation the back of the building was bumped out to provide a new kitchen, offices, and Heritage Hall, where you can still see some of the original stone wall.
St. John’s celebrated its 175th anniversary in 2014 with a major renovation of the Georgetown sanctuary, “Creating Inspiring Spaces”. Upholstered chairs replaced the pews, and a new extended platform with ramp provides beautiful and flexible space for concerts and innovative worship services.
St. John's is more than bricks and windows. Today, a "cloud of witnesses" looks down upon us, all the men and women who worshipped and worked in and loved this church through all those years, and who then went out to make their community a better place.
The words of Rev. Bristol, who visited here in 1846, echo today: "Here we met with a large audience that throughout our meeting gave expression that they had hearts that felt for that portion of the human family who were in indigent circumstances, spiritual and temporal. But all this was nothing new to me. The members and friends in Georgetown are given to hospitality and noble mindedness."