Wesley United holding final service

Wesley United Church, seen from 11 Street East. Arthur White-Crummey/Daily Herald

The Congregation of Wesley United Church will hold its final Service on Sunday, June 24th, 2018, marking the culmination of a 138-year faith-commitment within Prince Albert.

Wesley began as a Methodist Congregation, with the arrival of the Rev. Arthur Whiteside in 1880. He gathered the local Methodists in a building along the south bank of the North Saskatchewan River. According to the local church historian, the late Jean Halliday, Whiteside chose the name “Wesley” to honour the two Wesley brothers, John and Charles: the former having founded the Methodist denomination, and the latter famous for his hymnody.

With the growth of the congregation, Wesley Methodist Church purchased the property bordered by 1st Ave. E. and 11th St. E. and built a new wooden-framed church on the corner. When the Methodist congregation voted to become part of the United Church of Canada, in 1925, Wesley Methodist Church was renamed Wesley United Church.

In the post-war boom years, Wesley had as many as 600 congregation members on a Sunday morning, and therefore the Congregation elected to build a new structure – the current red-brick building that contains the Sanctuary, a lower hall, and offices. The Christian Education wing, consisting of an upper hall and a lower hall, was added in the early 1960’s.

Wesley United Church members have been active in the wider community throughout the years. In recent years, the congregation has supported a variety of outreach projects: collecting monthly food donations for the Prince Albert Food Bank; sponsoring two refugee families from the Myanmar Camps in Thailand; supporting Camp Tapawingo at Candle Lake through the “Market Garden” project; supporting St. Andrew’s Theological College in Saskatoon; and continuing to support the United Church of Canada’s Mission & Service Fund, which offers assistance to local communities, inner city ministries, as well as worldwide development needs. Wesley congregation truly has lived the theme in one of the hymns that is sung frequently: “Worship and Work must be one!”

A few years ago, a group within the congregation began pondering the possibility of transforming Wesley United Church through the creation of “The Ark Project”. Members envisioned a high-rise complex that would include a sanctuary, some small shops, and affordable suites for seniors. That plan made it through the design phase, but the congregation was unable to interest a developer in translating this unique vision into reality. At the same time, membership has been declining, as the congregation has watched its youth move off to further education opportunities, and to jobs in the wider world, and has also seen many of its senior members move into assisted-living spaces. As well, in the course of his 15 years serving the congregation, Wesley’s minister has officiated at more than 300 funeral services!

In 2017, the Prince Albert YWCA made an offer to the congregation to purchase the property. The congregation accepted that offer and then made the decision not to search for a new minister upon the retirement of the current minister, The Rev. Dr. Tony Thompson, effective June 30th, 2018. While it has been difficult to let go of a property that holds so many memories for the congregation’s members, the pain is somewhat alleviated by the knowledge that the YWCA will use the building for its various Resettlement programs. Thus, the building, which has always been part of the heart of downtown Prince Albert, will continue to serve the outreach mission within the wider community – an outreach mission which first the Methodist and then the United Church congregations have advocated throughout the decades.

Wesley United Church’s final Worship Service will take place on Sunday, June 24th, 2018 at 11:00am. The congregation invites everyone who has a connection with Wesley to celebrate the faith-work of an era.