Westminster United getting a renovated basement

May 30, 2019   ·   0 Comments


“I said at the beginning of my ministry here,” Rev. Sandra McLauchlan-Abuja told the Citizen, “Are we going to love this building or list it? We have to be a church all week – it’s a commitment to be a daily part of the community.”

This is necessarily easier said than done and that does not matter. It does not shrink the need nor the determination to answer it.

Three years ago, the church administrators and stewards took on the substantial task of completely renovating the sanctuary of the church, converting it into a fine concert space. It has been used to very good effect, with many church-based concerts (not necessarily focused on sacred music) being staged, primarily under the guiding hand of Music Director Nancy Sicsic, as well as other entertainments that have been brought in.

Now, effectively a gutting and re-build of most of the rest of the interior of the church, primarily downstairs and much of what has not yet been redone on the main floor.

“We wanted to have a building that people could think important,” Rev. McLauchlan-Abuja said.”We want to provide workshops, casual gatherings, educational events. We have identified that isolation transcends all ages.”

The work is naturally disruptive and there is as strict a time line as possible. At the moment of our interview at the church with the minister and John Lemke, a large part of the basement’s main section had been completely stripped but now was on its way and the electricians were coming the next day.

“We have to complete that part to meet our obligations to STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math) Camp that runs for six weeks (this year, the first two weeks are at Tweedsmuir Presbyterian Church, to be sure that all inspection permits are cleared). This is a four-year contract,” she explained, “and we want to continue that relationship.” 

“At least, the new windows will open. That’ll be nice,” commented Mr. Lemke. 

A long-time member of the church, Mr. Lemke has taken on the role of project manager, as it were, for the whole works to be completed. It is a full time job, for which he volunteers. 

A new ventilation system is being installed and will create “an enjoyable space for events. We have a licence for beer and wine,” he told us.

Along with the work in the basement are plans for a new kitchen which, it is hoped, will be doubled in size following the last stage of the overall improvements to the interior of the church. This includes an extension at the back to both the lower and ground floor, the enlarged kitchen and classroom for nutrition and cooking lessons and food bank.

On the ground floor, the extension will provide “a green room” as a meeting room, pre-performance and for “small, private weddings or funeral families.”

Designed to be suitable for catering to large groups and holding cooking lessons, the kitchen, like the rest, is aimed to include and involve community members of any age or persuasion, to have some place to come to meet people and learn about, especially, life skills. 

This is quite a theme: says Rev. McLauchlan-Abuja, “I’d like to teach people the basics – clothing – how to sew on a button, for example – cooking, spiritual care. We complement Rev. Kerry at Lighthouse, just down the street [at the old movie house].”

There will be smaller and larger rooms for the best variety of use. Smaller rooms are suitable for self-help groups, classes, meeting places and the clothing depot.

“This is kind of pioneering,” said Rev. McLauchlan-Abuja. “We are moving to more progressive Christianity. We did story-telling for Christmas and, before, we held a “Darkest Night” on the Solstice, December 21, for those grieving in any way.”

She talked about the homeless men who come to the church for help. “We have a clothing depot, milk program for young mothers and their babies. We have emergency food. Homeless men come to us as they pass through Orangeville, some to Owen Sound – some are headed home to the East Coast. We feed them and give them clean socks, shoes, underwear. 

“In this room [where we were sitting and which looks over the walk to the side door of the church], we are going to change it to be the office and have a side chapel for private christenings, weddings; also private counselling or just a quiet place for meditation. There can be a space for Christian education.”

Showing us the pamphlet they have designed and printed to tell about the plans for all this work, Rev. McLauchlan-Abuja pointed out the “mission” of “nurturing the body, mind and soul of our community.” 

She sighed, “I feel that I should be working on the souls while others work on the bodies and minds. Small groups of studies of all kinds of spirituality for people.” 

This is also to be the future location of the church office, which has always been the one part of the church that is not fully accessible. 

“The church has sponsored refugees,” the Minister went on to say. “There’s diversity in our outreach. We need volunteers to help with programs. This is a big thing. You don’t have to have an affiliation with a church, although some positions require police checks.

“For people raising children on low incomes – being able to offer activities they can come to without cost – or very little -is important.” 

“We really want to promote healthy, to teach.”

John Lemke had his reasons too, for sticking with all the hard work and long hours, as a volunteer. “To grow the church in this community because then, there’s a place where people get together on all levels.”

Raising the funds for all this is no easy matter. The United Church of Canada has contributed to a three-year contract but building budgets tend to bulge and fund-raising is an ongoing necessity. 

Pretty soon, Rev. McLauchlan-Abuja and Mr. Lemke agreed, what next there is to consider, is the exterior of the church. Built in 1879, Westminster is one of Orangeville’s primary heritage sites and it is in need of work, where none has been done for some years. Already, the eyes of the people who care for the historical church are looking to see what has to be done to the exterior.

To learn more or how to donate to the work on this important heritage church, call the office at 519-941-0381.

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