Wesley celebrates 63 years in historic downtown building

Wesley United Church minister Tony Thompson presides over Sunday's special service in the historic downtown building. Arthur White-Crummey/Daily Herald

In 1951, Joan Parker got married.

Her wedding was held in an aging church. Across the street, she could see the first signs of a new building, a place that would weave it’s way through the rest of her life: Wesley United Church.

She still remembers the feeling, three years later, when she first walked through its doors.

“It was exciting,” she said. “It was so beautiful and so new.”

Sixty-three years later, Parker came to a special service at Wesley – a celebration marking the close of a long chapter in her life. At the end of this month, Wesley’s congregation will hand the building over to the YWCA. They came together Sunday to remember a history of fellowship and service to the community.

Three ministers led the service. Tony Thompson, who’s led the flock for the past 14 years, invited Ken DeLisle – an interim minister from the early 2000’s. The two of them tracked down Fran Ota, the daughter of the church’s first reverend and now herself a minister in Toronto.

The three asked everyone who was married at Wesley to stand, everyone who was confirmed, everyone who was baptized there. Over those 63 years, Thompson said, 2,000 funerals were held at Wesley United Church.

Stages on life’s way, all of them celebrated among those pews. Joan Parker knows them well.

“Both of our sons were baptized here, both of our sons were married here and my husband died two years ago and he was buried here of course,” she said. “My whole life has been right here.”

Parker helped organize a Scout troop at Wesley. She sang in the choir. She worked for decades in the United Church women’s group. The thing she’s always loved the most about Wesley, she said, is the openness.

“It was so welcoming,” she said. “They’re very accepting and, you know, I always felt that I could say what I wanted to say. I could criticize or I could praise – and they accepted both equally.”

For more on this story, see the June 20 print or e-edition of the Daily Herald.