Harmony St. Mark's United Church
The St. Joseph Island Pastoral Charge had its beginning over 100 years ago when several committed persons of the Methodist and Presbyterian faiths began the work of the church on the Island.
One of these dedicated persons was Mr. E.O. Vanhorn who established seven or eight classes in different parts of the Island with leaders for each. The classes met in the homes of the settlers and were the start of Methodism on the Island.
A Rev. Robert McKee came in 1880 to be the first resident minister. He was followed in 1883 by Rev. W.P. Leak. The various class leaders continued to help.
The Presbyterian Church work was started in Algoma in 1867 of which St. Joseph Island was a part. In 1892 Algoma Presbytery comprised the large area of northern sections of Bruce County, Sudbury, Manitoulin, Cockburn and LaCloche Islands, St. Joseph Island and the adjacent mainland. Later the boundaries were defined to a smaller area off the Algoma Presbytery of today.
As with the Methodists, the Presbyterians held their services in the homes of the settlers. A Mr. James Meldrum, student, a man of great ability, got Presbyterianism firmly established on the Island. The first church was built in 1887, followed in a few years by churches at Richards Landing, Harmony and on the Mountain. At the same time, the Methodists were building their places of worship, often within a short distance from a Presbyterian church.
The ministers of both denominations had their headquarters in Richards Landing and Hilton Beach, travelling out to their several appointments by walking at first, then by horse and buggy or cutter, depending on the season. It is interesting to note that in the early 1900’s there was a population of 1,400 on the Island and 14 churches. However, with the redistribution of the Island’s population and changes in transportation, some churches were closed.
In Hilton Beach, where the congregations of the two faiths had dwindled, they anticipated Union by some seven years and joined as one congregation in 1917. The Methodist church was sold and the Presbyterian church was used for worship. In 1927 it was destroyed by fire. A new church was built. In 1956 this church was named Grace United Church after Miss Grace Steinburg, a faithful member for many years.
In 1920 the Methodists and Presbyterians joined as one congregation at Richards Landing. The two former churches were sold and a new one built in 1927, called St. Mark’s. After 1925 there were two pastoral charges on the Island – Richards Landing and Hilton Beach – with several appointments each.
In 1945 the two charges were constituted as one under the leadership of The Rev. Harold Kennedy, with many preaching points. In the summer, student ministers gave their services, while mid-week meetings were held in the winter at various outlying points. Years passed and more changes occurred, so that first one and then another place of worship was closed, the members joining with other congregations.
The last church to close its doors was Harmony. Its congregation, with Presbytery’s permission, amalgamated with Richards Landing on April 16, 1970. The new congregation became known as Harmony-St. Mark’s.
The business of the St. Joseph Island Pastoral Charge is conducted by a body of representatives from each church, called the St. Joseph Island Church Council. Each church has its own treasurer, who is responsible to the one treasurer for the whole charge. The minister of the charge is the chairman, and a vice=chairman is elected from the congregation.
Over the years women of the churches have worked diligently to augment the treasuries in many ways. At first they were known as Ladies’ Aid and the Women’s Missionary Society. Later the two combined to become the United Church Women, there being four Units in the Pastorate – St. Mark’s, Hilton Beach, Harmony and Esther Steele.
An interesting commentary on the times is that the records form 1904 showed that the members of three churches were hard pressed to raise $550. To be able to call a minster, whereas in 1978 the St. Joseph Island Pastoral Charge met its budget of $20,110. With a nice surplus besides the sum of $4,575. for the Mission and Service Fund. This surely attests to the fact that the dedication of today’s members is as firm as that of the early settlers who built the foundation.
In 1979 a “Morning Break” group as started on St. Joseph Island to help the many new residents of the area to become acquainted with each other. Its aim was also to provide information about what the various churches had to offer and to discuss numerous current topics. Now, after eight years of meeting together in the homes, we have a closely knit group of concerned people. We have become aware of, and have donated to, World Development, Christmas Cheer, Women In Crisis, and Cara House.
In 1983 one of our devoted church members, Lois Crowder, was made the recipient of a Fellowship from Huntington University in Sudbury. When she succumbed to cancer, a Scholarship Fund was set up in her memory. Since its inception two students have benefitted from the Fund.
In 1984 the sanctuary at Harmony-St. Mark’s was redecorated with new rugs and dossal curtains. A wooden cross was made by Albert Crowder and donated in memory of his mother, Lois. In 1986 two beautiful oak pedestals were purchased to match the Communion table.
In 1985-86 the basement of Harmony-St. Mark’s was renovated to provide new linings for the walls and ceiling. Spacious cupboards were built and “firedoors” installed all through the building. Chimes were placed in the tower to broadcast Christmas and Easter music. A charge directory was started.
Over the years Grace Church has had several beautiful stained glass windows installed as memorials to people who had given faithful service during their lifetime. In 1981 special interior storm windows were installed to help to cut down on fuel bills. A beautiful cross was carved by Mansel Greene from an old oak plank, discovered when the village blacksmith shop was dismantled several years ago. The wood was very well preserved, and the lighted cross adds a distinctive historic quality to the church. A second pulpit chair, for visiting ministers, was provided by one family as a memorial.
In 1985-86 Grace Church built a beautiful addition to the back of the sanctuary and named it “Grace Memorial Hall’. It will be used for Sunday School, midweek groups, and other activities. It has washroom, kitchen, and library facilities.
A P.A. system was installed in 1983. Now the large doors between the sanctuary and the church hall can be opened to provide more seating when a large attendance is experienced. Two attractive oak pedestals were purchased for flower stands, to match the Communion table and cross. Dossal curtains and new aisle carpets were purchased, as well as carpeting for The Memorial Hall.
Ministers who have served this Pastoral Charge in recent years: Rev. Dennis Posno (1972-75), Rev. Camillia LaRouche (1975-77), Rev. Norman c. Middaugh (1977-80), Miss Phyllis Dietrich, student (1980-81), Rev. William McAuslan (1981-85), Rev. Ken Taylor (1985-87)