Congregation of Union United Church celebrates the return to their place of worship with a grand Thanksgiving service
As they make their way back home to 3007 Delisle Street, the joy is multiplied for the Union United Church family, knowing that they have for the most part carried the brunt of the burden in making their place of worship habitable once again in preparation for decades more of service as one of Canada’s oldest Black congregations.
“It’s a celebration of the commitment and dedication of our congregation and community in raising almost $1.2 million to decontaminate and refurbish the building so that we can return home after four years,” says Ms. Erene Anthony, chairperson of the board of the church.
“But it has not been an easy task,” she added. “To raise this money we had no major donors. It took event after event, it took donations, it took pledges from members of our congregation who were determined to return to our spiritual home.”
It will be celebrated at a grand “Thanksgiving Service” on Sunday, June 14, when all Montrealers are invited to join in another milestone event for the church that laid the foundation upon which other Black congregations were built.
The service will be made special by the participation of Oliver Jones who will unveil his donation of a Baby Grand piano to a church that hosted his first public performance seven and a half decades ago.
Jones, who emerged as one of Canada’s, indeed as one of the world’s greatest jazz pianists was quoted as saying: “my first concert was 75 years ago at the church…on a very old piano,” he said.
“I always promised that I would buy a new piano for the church so I thought this was a good time to do it.”
His expected participation and that of the church’s three choirs are expected to illuminate the special return service.
Ms Anthony tells of the difficult road travelled over the past four years when they had to vacate the 107-year-old building that was made decrepit over time with crumbling walls, a leaky roof and plumbing, flaking paint and a proliferation of mould and mildew.
Since then the congregation found refuge at Rosedale Queen Mary United Church in NDG, where they have been worshipping for much of the past four years before they were forced to leave in March, as the building was sold.
They spent the last several weeks at Wesley United Church, in preparation for the big return home.
When members of the community and congregation enter the building they will find that not much has changed with the layout of the place, but they will be greeted by a spruced-up sanctuary with new ceiling punctuated by a new skylight, freshly painted walls, new floors and new stairways that lead to modified bathrooms. The roof was replaced and plumbing and electricity repaired.
According to Ms. Anthony, much of the targeted refurbishment and repairs are almost completed.
She says there’s still some painting to be done on the inside, but the bulk of the remaining work will be done on the outside of the building where a special echo-type French drain is required and bricks have to be pointed.
When it’s all done the congregation would have spent $1.6 million to get back their church building. She said they were able to secure a $400,000 loan from the presbytery of the United Church of Canada to complete the project.
The total budget represents a significant overrun of the $800,000 initially budgeted.
She says in the coming months they will focus their attention on the repair of the manse, which has since been gutted to ensure that it was not contaminated.
“We expect those repairs will be done through donations in kind.”
In celebrating the collaborative efforts of the community and the congregation in making the place whole once more, Ms Anthony also took the opportunity to shine a light on the work done by the various committees and individuals. (She identified for praise, long-serving member Patrick Thornhill, who voluntarily primed most of the walls for painting.)
In a recent interview, she told the CONTACT it was a difficult trek over the past four years, “but as we return, I think we do so as a stronger congregation, and much more appreciative of our many blessings.”
UNION UNITED Church Thanksgiving Service at 3007 Delisle in St. Henri at 1 PM. Rev. Bill Jay will deliver the message.