By Sheila Phibbs
The Haldimand Press
HAGERSVILLE—It was a reportedly stormy day when All Saints Anglican Church first opened its doors on March 19, 1870. It became the gathering place for Hagersville’s “Church of England people” and home to generations of families who shared fellowship while worshipping together and serving the community. This September, after 155 years, the congregation of All Saints will gather once more before the doors close for the last time.
Since 1958, All Saints has been served by 39 Rectors, the most recent being Arch Deacon Valerie Kerr, who is also Arch Deacon of Indigenous Ministries for the Niagara Diocese. Sandra Tobicoe is the Rector’s Warden and, in that capacity, she assists and works with the Rector. She explains that discussions to close the church began last fall due to several issues of concern, including low attendance, aging parishioners, and an aging building.
With the church soon closing, long-time members share a sense of nostalgia as they look back on the history of All Saints. The founding families included Almas’, Lindsays, Seymours, Doughertys, Catherwoods, Uttons, Howards, and Barkers. The church was built on land owned by David Almas Sr. and the timber used came from woods also owned by Almas.
That wood, and other materials, was transformed into what congregation member Janice Schweder describes as, “One of the most spectacular churches in the province, especially for a smaller church.”
While in the sanctuary, one cannot help but admire the craftsmanship including two chairs, the lectern, and all the pews which were handmade by Joseph Seymour. Stunning stained-glass windows placed as memorials through the years contribute to the beauty of the building. Schweder is the fourth generation in a family of parishioners that began with her great-grandparents Reuben and Sarah Mattice. She joined other members of All Saints to reminisce and share favourite memories.
Schweder and Tobicoe recall with much amusement the time when the Right Reverend Ralph Spence (a former Bishop) used a live donkey, courtesy of Richard Anderson, as part of a sermon entitled “We Fail to See the Signs”. Bringing the donkey into the sanctuary, he pointed out that there is a marking resembling a cross on the back of every donkey. Schweder appreciates the symbolism as she says, “The lowly donkey performed one of the most important acts in Christianity by carrying Mary.”
That was not the only time creatures were found within the walls of All Saints. Tobicoe says that bees were discovered in an old chimney and started coming into the sanctuary. An expert was brought in and some 30,000 bees were removed, resulting in 12 jars of honey. She says, “We called it ‘All Saints Holy Honey!’” The honey was sold, and the money was donated to the Six Nations Food Bank.
Along with Tobicoe, Gary and Linda Gallagher have been members since the 1970s. Linda was organist from 1979 to 1999 and then sang in the choir. She has been a dedicated member of the ACW – Anglican Church Women. Gary has been involved in “almost everything”, including being a lay reader, choir member, and chair of the new roof project. He will never forget the time he filled in for Linda to teach the pre-school Sunday School class. After the lesson on trust, he asked the class, “Who do you trust?” Answers of “mom and dad” and “my teacher” were followed by one child proclaiming, “My dad said you don’t trust anybody, not even my best friend!”
Gary says, “I was still laughing about it at home.”
Children and youth have been an important part of the All Saints family. Gail Nutley has fond memories of Planting Sunday, which was held each year in June. The Sunday School classes planted annuals in the gardens and then enjoyed the church picnic. Through that event, she says, “The youth were personally involved in the church.”
There was also a strong connection between All Saints and Northview Public School. In 1998, the school presented a “Peace Pole” to the church with the message “May Peace Prevail on Earth” inscribed in Ojibwa, Cayuga, English, and French. Students from Northview would ring the church bells on the third Tuesday in September, which is International Peace Day.
With every story that is shared, it is clear that All Saints is truly a home to its members. Affection for the church is evidenced by the contributions made through the years. Memorial donations such as the pipe organ, stained-glass windows, a hand carved WWI memorial, and even a hand-knit depiction of The Last Supper give the church its beauty and donations of members’ time and skills have given the church its strength. From Sunday worship to Lenten Lunches, suppers supporting the local food banks, or providing space for community groups and events, All Saints was a place of spiritual and social fulfillment. Linda says, “The social aspect of the church was great! We had a lot of fun here.”
All Saints Anglican Church has weathered many storms in more than a century and a half. A special closing service is tentatively scheduled for September 13 with final plans to be announced closer to the date. Linda is reflective as she says, “It will be sad. It is unfortunate that this is the way the world is going. The service will be a time of closure for the people who have been with it until the end.”
The church property is owned by Anglican Diocese of Niagara. The future of the church and its contents is to be determined after a full inventory is completed.