Historic St. Paul’s Presbyterian congregation comes to an end

Rev. Ted Hicks stand by a plaque commemorating the approximate spot where the congregation’s first minister, James Nisbet, landed. Arthur White-Crummey/Daily Herald

A church congregation tied up with the earliest beginnings of Prince Albert’s history will meet for the last time next month.

Rev. Ted Hicks, interim minister of St. Paul’s Presbyterian Church, announced that the 151-year-old congregation will officially disband as of June 30, 2017. He said the church’s aging leaders are facing “burnout.” Like mainline churches across Canada, the congregation wasn’t attracting new worshippers ready to take over the reins.

“In the end, we realized that there wasn’t the energy or resources to go forward,” he told the Daily Herald, “so we had to ask the presbytery to close us.”

The congregation has gone through rocky times over the past few years. In 2015, structural problems forced them to sell their iconic downtown cathedral for only $1.

“That left people reeling,” Hicks said. “It left people hurt who had spent their whole life in that building.”

They temporarily shared a space with Wesley United Church, before moving into the Masonic Hall on 15 Avenue East.

The life of St. Paul’s Presbyterian Church weaves its way through the story of Prince Albert. The church’s original minister, Rev. James Nisbet, is remembered as one of the city’s founders. He landed on the shores of the North Saskatchewan River to set up a mission in 1866, near a settlement established by Métis leader James Isbister. Hicks points out that it was Nisbet who named Prince Albert, choosing to honour the Prince Consort of Queen Victoria.

Long after those early days, the congregation has struggled to keep pace with a society in motion.

“The change that the church got caught up with is a broader social change,” Hicks said. “It’s a change in technologies; it’s a change in demographics; its a change in lifestyles; it’s a change in values. And the church slowly, reluctantly, resistantly responds to change.”

Hicks said that he plans to move back to his home on Vancouver Island after the congregation celebrates its last services. He invites residents to join them at the Masonic Hall for their final Sunday morning service on June 18 at 11 a.m. and for a closing service on June 25, followed by a roast beef dinner. Prospective diners can RSVP by calling 306-314-1425 or emailing tedhicks.cv@gmail.com.

The close of the congregation marks the end of an era, but Hicks says its impact will continue. The church’s remaining funds will go to the St. Paul’s Legacy Campership Fund, which helps send kids on a “christian camping experience.”

The reverend said he’s “not a prophet,” and can’t predict what will take the church’s place. But he hopes winding down the congregation might “allow something new to emerge in the future.”