Chapter 2: 1950 - 1980


By 1950 Elmwood had become a well-established, mature congregation. It was very much in the Presbyterian mode, with an eloquent , definitely "in charge" preacher, a plain, some might say austere liturgy, and two services each Sunday, a "learning" Sunday School, staffed almost entirely by qualified, experienced elementary and secondary school teachers, and the usual roster of organizations blessed with good leadership.

What lay ahead during the next 30 years was growth and expansion of opportunities for worship and fellowship as well as physical facilities. Then there was the effect of social change, which one might label as social upheaval of the '60's and early '70's. Also there was the effect of issues facing the Presbyterian Church in Canada, and the Christian Church as a whole, albeit moderately, by a middle-sized local (South London) congregation.


The membership role stood at 340 at January 1, 1950, and 307, December 31, 1980. The high point was December 31, 1966, when it was at 470. Allowing for the non-participating persons whose names remained on the role until after the change in ministers in 1967, this number could have been as high as 15% or more). An increase in membership is apparent during the first half of this period, and a sharp decline in the second half. Any attempt to explain these trends is highly speculative. Likely the downward trend is consistent with the decline in church membership among the mainline Protestant denominations and beyond.

It is interesting that throughout this period average attendance at Communion was about 60% when the role was in the 300's, and 45 - 50% when it was over 400.

To highlight some of the characteristics of the congregations presents difficulties because no profile containing statistical data was ever put together until early in the third period of the Elmwood Story. A sketchy picture can be put together, however, from such information as is available, and particularly from conversations with long-term members of the congregation who have been kind enough to talk about their experiences at Elmwood.

Throughout this second period of the Elmwood Story, there were very few families headed by self-employed professional practitioners such as doctors, lawyers, or accountants. On the other hand, there seemed to be very few families where the main income earner was an unskilled worker earning relatively low wages, or experiencing much unemployment. Without being overly precise, it may be said that most families and individual adults fell somewhere in between, with occupations such as teaching, nursing, sales, skilled and semi-skilled technical and clerical, along with a few self-employed merchants being well-represented.

At least in the 1950's and '60's, less so later on, in many of these occupational groups, church affiliation was an expectation, with the result that in a congregation like Elmwood, new leaders and new workers did emerge as required. Thus this congregation, as it grew and developed, was high in stability; members often had much in common with each other; exhibiting a quiet conservatism, also showing a careful willingness to change and adapt as the need arose, although carefully.

Worship and Work

As the membership continued to grow in numbers, the pattern of worship changed. It was common in articles on common trends in church attendance to attribute the falling off in evening services to the coming of television. There is probably much to be said for this point of view. At any rate as the 1950's drew to a close the evening service at Elmwood was dropped, and yet with increasing numbers in attendance on Sunday, there was a problem in accommodation. It was not long, then, before two services were held on Sunday mornings, at 9:30 and 11:00 a.m. The Sunday School also made a change, and began to convene at 9:30 a.m., part of the reason being that parents could bring their children to Sunday School and attend church at the same time. The pattern continued for the next ten or twelve years until attendance began to drop and it seemed reasonable to go back to one morning service, held at 10:30 a.m. Another consideration in going back to one service was that many members were never very satisfied with the 9:30 service, in that it seemed rather stark, and of course the choir was absent. The feeling was expressed that perhaps those who attended the 9:30 service did not mix much with those who came to the 11:00 service, and it sometimes appeared that there were two congregations. This seemed to be a problem, especially for new members.

For some years, summer services were exchanged in July and August, with Knox United Church. This, of course, was before Knox united with Wesley to become Wesley-Knox United Church. This plan worked quite well for several years, but there were those at Elmwood who had reservations about having that much to do with what they perceived as a renegade church, which after all had been the forerunner of their own congregation.

In May, 1972, the Kirk Session decided that during the summer months, that is, during the time of the minister's holidays, lay members of the congregation would take the services. The first series of summer services under lay leadership in 1972 was very satisfactory and this way of providing leadership for services during the summer holidays of successive ministers has continued.

Other changes in worship pertain to the liturgy. The Rev. John Fleck in 1965 introduced the singing by the congregation of the Gloria Patri. The congregation struggled awhile with the change, but the Gloria continued until the end of Dr. Campbell's ministry in 1981.

The liturgy was enhanced in 1972 with the introduction of the new Book of Praise. A feature of this book was that not only did it contain words, but it contained music to tunes usually used with each of the hymns.

Finally, regarding worship services, in 1978, a candlelight service of lessons and carols was held on Christmas Eve. Such a service has been held each Christmas since that time.

To quote from Alistair McGhee's song Friends in His Service, (Sept. 1983) "Oh yes, we're friends in His service, Disciples of Love", the work in and of the congregation went on apace during the second period of the Elmwood Story. The Session and Board of Managers continued to fill their roles amply as ruling Elders and managers of the material resources of the congregation. W.M.S and the W.A. provided the opportunities for many women in the congregation to contribute substantially to the congregational life and to missions through their service and fundraising projects. Two new organizations came into being in 1950. The Friendship Circle over 50 years has made an enormous contribution to the life of the congregation. The Men's Fellowship, also established in 1950, has enabled many men in the congregation to give of their time and talents: in cooking, carpentry and construction work over the years.

The Church and Society in Turbulent Times

During the 1960's and '70's every major institution was shaken to its roots in Canada and abroad by rapid and sometimes what appeared to be revolutionary change in thinking and behaviour throughout society. The whys and wherefores of these years of social upheaval is a vast subject upon which much has been written, but one which is not to be touched here. Suffice it to say that the onset of the affluent society, the civil rights movement in the United States, the women's movement throughout North America, the swing away from the ascendancy of community values toward individual rights and other phenomena conspired to exert pressure on students of theology, national denominational officials, local congregational ministers and leaders, and their congregations, to re-examine traditional beliefs, attitudes and ways of doing things. The object was to move away from older authoritarian styles of governance and leadership toward more participatory and democratic styles, to achieve greater understanding and sensitivity toward the communities of which churches were a part, and in general to be less doctrinaire and more creative as institutions and as people. In his book Enduring Witness, John Moir discusses some of the issues dealt with at General Assemblies of the Presbyterian Church in Canada. He mentions some major projects undertaken by the National Church, and refers to articles appearing in the Presbyterian Record and elsewhere. New theology offering a new understanding of the scriptures and a challenge to re-think some basic doctrines of the church filtered down from the academics in the theological colleges to the younger generation of ministers through their preaching and teaching in their congregations. The ecumenical movement inspired by war-time and post-war experience in which denominational boundaries seemed less important was an anathema for some Presbyterians. They remembered with sadness the bitter debates over church union of 40 years or so earlier. The Holy Spirit was surely engaged, for within 10 or 15 years presbyteries and congregations were to cooperate with other denominations wherever and however the Word was proclaimed. The understanding of and even commitment to a common Christendom was greatly spurred on by the Roman Catholic Church's Council, known as Vatican II, held between 1962 and 1965. Reformation within the Roman Catholic Church opened many doors and dispelled much hostility between denominations.

The place of women in the church and the ordination of women to the Ministry of Word and Sacrament in the Presbyterian Church gained some attention in the 1950's, but the response among Presbyteries and Sessions was so negative that this matter faded into the background. A few years later however, when specific propositions regarding the Ordination of women were put forward, although debate was vigorous, there was in the end widespread support for a plan to go forward with the ordination of women. The first woman to be ordained to the ministry of the Presbyterian Church in Canada was the Rev. Shirley Jeffries in 1968.

As mentioned earlier, at Elmwood, but also throughout the church, in the mid-60's, membership began to decline and church attendance to fall off. "How relevant is the church?" was becoming the issue of the day. There was plenty of evidence that religious influences, and specifically Christian influences on everyday life was waning. Was traditional religious influence becoming irrelevant to many people in the confused values of modern life? Christians, Canadians especially, were disturbed by the arguments of Pierre Berton's Comfortable Pew about the shortcomings of the institutional churches. As Moir points out "Among Presbyterians the same questions were being debated", and Professor Joseph McClelland called on the church to abandon its preoccupation with the union of 1925 and look to its future, warning his fellow Presbyterians in 1967 that "we are dangerously close to loving the Presbyterian Church in Canada more than our Lord Jesus Christ".

By 1965 the Presbyterian Church in Canada at the General Assembly at least resolved one issue around ecumenism and relevancy. Issues around church and state centering on whether the church should be actively involved in the social affairs of the nation had been a divisive issue since the earlier union of Presbyterian churches in 1875. Finally, after years of debate, the General Assembly of 1965 resolved that "Christian social action is the church's business because it is God's business". For some years the church had been preparing statements on such social issues as anti-Semitism, treatment of the elderly, racism, corporate social responsibility, family planning, and Canada's divorce laws. These and other statements in the1960's were compiled into a "Manual on Christian Social Action" and published in 1966. It did not mean that there was agreement throughout the church on the position regarding these issues taken in the manual. It did, however, mean that when a discussion in church organizations concerning these matters took place, there was a basic point of view to which Presbyterians could respond. Finally, Moir points out that in 1969, after a turbulent and divisive decade of introspection, the Ross report - "Study of the Relevance of the Church's Ministry in Changing Times" - added a statistical and ideological self-portrait of the Presbyterian Church in Canada. The study was critical. The report found that in the view of many, obsession with "tradition in past glories" made the church "conservative, stodgy, slow-to-change, more concerned with identity than ministry, out-of-touch, ingrown, in need of renewal, and unable to communicate with the younger generation". The key to finding the way out of this sad state was, in the opinion of the report, involvement. New forms of ministry were needed, and in the opinion of the investigators, the people were ready for new forms of ministry, so the church (presumably the national church), must be prepared to accept new forms. The report found that church members on the whole were ready for an orientation "toward people and community outreach and a de-emphasis of buildings and structures".

At the same time, in response to the search for renewal, the General Assembly in 1965, appointed a committee to undertake another project which became known as the L.A.M.P. (Life and Mission Project). Also presented in 1969, variously the 32 recommendations in this report were adopted more or less over the next few years. Emphasis was on increasing member participation at all levels in the church's life, structural changes in the national church organization, congregations actively seeking community involvement, undertaking of formal planning at all levels, moving toward a much larger role for women and youth in the life of the church, opportunities for training for whatever types of responsibilities people were taking at all levels.

For the Elmwood congregation the impact of social change, the decline in influence of the Christian church in the affairs of the nation, and the splurge of self-criticism was gentle, came slowly, but nonetheless was felt. In the Ross Report and the L.A.M.P. recommendations insofar as they were known within the congregation did give emphasis to greater participation in Session and Board committees. For example, the buildup of mission, and outreach and community involvement, and ecumenical cooperation which occurred during the 1970's began to blossom and bear much fruit in the third period of the Elmwood Story.

Stewardship and Property

For the ordinary person in the pew, stewardship means giving of time and talents and making financial contributions to pay for the expenses incurred by the congregation year in and year out. For elders, managers, and the congregation as a body, it means obtaining and managing the resources, both human and material, required to fulfil the mission and achieve the objectives established from time to time by the congregation. During the second period of the Elmwood Story there was steady growth in all aspects of stewardship. Increase in membership during the first 20 years, followed by a decline during the next 10 years has already been noted. More important than mere numbers were the gifts of participation in congregational life, the talents and the leadership which the many new people who attended Elmwood during these years brought with them. The congregation continued to be blessed by having lots of people come forward who were willing to help with a huge variety of tasks from carpentry and cooking to teaching and preaching. This matter is discussed more fully in subsequent chapters.

Financial resources grew substantially during the period. For example, the budget for the year 1980 was more than ten times that of the budget for the year 1950. How much of this was real and how much was due to inflationary trends is difficult to determine. Certainly, the 1980 dollar was worth a fraction of its 1950 counterpart. The experience at Elmwood, i.e., increased expenses and increased financial contributions, is in line with the experience of many other churches and private charities across Canada. Those who were regularly employed generally had more disposable income and of those, church members and others, accustomed to sharing their resources, seemed willing to share a greater proportion.

That is not to say that the church was spared financial difficulties during the period. Newsletters consistently made note of an impending shortfall for the year. Borrowing from the bank during summer months was quite regular so that bills which came due during those months could be paid. From 1970 to 1979, an every-member visitation was conducted about every 2 years. Pledges in respect to givings for the coming year were obtained and cash donations were collected. As mentioned earlier, donations to the General Fund by various organizations continued, to prevent serious shortfalls, or to put it more positively, to augment the congregational givings. There were deficits in some years. They could be carried forward and were usually overcome during the next year.

Throughout the period the congregation met a number of financial expenditures. From the first manse in 1950, to the sale of the first manse and the purchase of a second in 1966, to the Christian Education wing in 1960, to the new organ in 1969, substantial obligations were undertaken. Various fundraising events were held regularly and special funds from time-to-time were established so that individuals could make contributions to various projects. The organ fund from 1968 to 1973 is a good example. By 1979 the manse mortgage was paid off. This meant in practical terms that the congregation was free of debt to outside sources.

In spite of continual financial strains and stresses to meet increasing operating costs, the church was very fortunate during this period to receive several substantial bequests. By 1980 the securities in the endowment fund (earlier known as the Trustees' Account) amounted to $90,102.53. Shortly after the receipt of a bequest of approximately $25,000 in 1965, the Session proposed and the congregation approved at an annual meeting that the proceeds from investments be used exclusively for work outside of the congregation. Whilst the conviction that the opportunity to assist outside organizations and individuals in need should be seized, the other side of the coin was a measure of apprehension that voluntary givings might diminish if people began to feel that the church was wealthy and "relied on investments to meet any shortfalls." After a few years as investments increased and the yield on securities also increased, a policy was established that 40% of investment income would be available to the Session for what came to be known as Benevolences and 60% would be available to the Board of Managers for its use, to cover exceptional expenses for maintenance and repairs. A Benevolence Committee was established by the Kirk Session in 1970 and functioned as such for about 20 years.

Perhaps the greatest value of the endowment fund over the years, especially as it grew to between $100,000 and $200,000, was that it made it possible for the congregation to "borrow from itself" for major capital expenses. This practice was begun in 1969 with the issuing of "congregational promissory notes" at low rates of interest with repayment subject to funds available. Since this practice was established, the church has rarely, if ever, had to borrow money from financial institutions, although it was frequently necessary for the Board of Managers to remind the congregation of its obligation to provide sufficient funds to discharge the various notes from time to time.

Maintenance and repairs, expansion and enhancement of the property of the Elmwood Avenue congregation demanded a great deal of attention during the period. Certainly this is nothing new for Elmwood Avenue Church, but in the earlier period once the new church was built and furnishings were acquired, maintenance and repairs were not extensive.

By 1950 the apartment on the second floor of the church home was no longer considered adequate for the minister, his wife and two young children. A few present members of the congregation recall Mrs. Fleck hauling her baby carriage up and down the twenty-three step winding stairway leading to the second floor apartment. The first manse, purchased in 1950, was a modest storey and a half house on McKenzie Avenue, a few blocks from the church. It served as the manse until Rev. D. Glenn Campbell was called in 1966 at which time it was deemed appropriate to sell 403 McKenzie and purchase a new manse. A more modern house was located at 41 Elworthy Avenue and purchased in 1966. Although the house was only 10 or 12 years old, it needed painting, redecorating and the chairman of the Board of Managers of the day was able to organize a group of men who undertook to "put the house in shape". This served as the manse until 1984 when Rev. Rod Ferguson decided to purchase a home of his own.

The pressing need for more space with the growth of the congregation, but especially the expansion of the Sunday School, was recognized in 1958 when a plan was made to erect a new wing attached to the church. (Earlier, the beautiful garden at the rear of the property had been given up favour of a much-needed parking lot.) The addition, which presently contains Fleck Hall, the Baldwin Room, the church office, the choir room and the vestry was completed in 1960 at a cost of $47,000 for construction and another $7,000 for equipment and furnishings. Furnishings included the installation of oak pews in the sanctuary to replace the folding chairs which had been purchased in 1926. Perhaps among other considerations was the growing number of complaints about runs in nylon stockings!

Another major capital expense was the building and installation of a new organ, completed in 1969 at a cost of approximately $24,000. (Although the old organ was now over 60 years old, some of its pipes were included in the new structure.) The installation of the organ required major renovations to the chancel which led to the need to refurbish the sanctuary as a whole. This major undertaking was carried out by a group of men in the summer of 1970. New lights for the sanctuary were donated through the efforts of an elder and member of the board and the company of which he was an employee. Thus Harry Shiack is remembered for acquiring this gift from Labatt's for the church. Redecorating the sanctuary was a major undertaking by the Board of Managers and several men of the congregation. They were organized into work parties to undertake the various tasks of cleaning, painting and papering. The painting of the ceiling and varnishing of the cross beams was made possible again by Harry Shiak, who was able to borrow from Labatt's the type of scaffolding needed so the high ceiling could be reached. All of the men who worked on this project had full time jobs and thus they spent many evenings and Saturdays on the project. Some of the older members at present remember this project and the replacement of the ceiling in what is now the Campbell Room as a high point in the "do it yourself" era of repairs and maintenance at Elmwood Avenue. They recall a lot of hard work, but a lot of fun and fellowship as well. The story is told of one evening when the work party, finishing their jobs very late decided to have some refreshments. They chose the vestry for their sandwiches and opened a case of beer which someone had contributed. About the same time when Dr. Campbell embarked on his usual late night walk around the district, passing by the church he saw a light on in the vestry and wondered why his office was lit up at that time of night. Finding the west door open, he went in and greeted the group of men enjoying their refreshments in the vestry. They quickly explained how they had been painting all evening and were having some light refreshment before going home. Dr. Campbell, displaying his quiet sense of humour is said to have remarked, "I don't think there's any paint in those bottles". After some polite banter he thanked the men and left with a gentle chuckle.

Perhaps the most distinctive contribution to the enhancement of the sanctuary during this period was the installation of 8 stained glass windows in the east, west and north walls. Actually, the first window to be installed in the sanctuary was "The Good Shepherd", placed in the south wall of the chancel in 1954. This window is reputed to have been made by the Luxper Prism Company of Toronto. Rev. John Fleck must be given credit for the concept of a series of full-sized stained glass windows depicting major themes in the Christian religion. One artist, Mr. Christopher Wallis, designed, cut and assembled all of these windows.

The themes for each of the windows are:

  • Creation
  • Law
  • Love
  • Prophecy
  • Nativity
  • Baptism
  • Resurrection
  • Church

The cost of some of these windows was met by the congregation, and some by families wishing to provide a memorial for their loved ones. They are dedicated to the Glory of God and in memory of various individuals or couples who were long-time members of Elmwood Avenue Church. Two are in memory of former ministers, Rev. F. W. Gilmour and Rev. John Fleck. A full description of these windows is in Appendix I, along with the rest of the windows in the sanctuary, installed over the next few years.

Thus throughout this period, in worship and work at Elmwood, the witness to the faith, the dedication and commitment of the ministers, and lay leaders and helpers continued with vigour. It would be misleading to assume that changes in liturgy, expansion of activities and improvement and enhancement of physical facilities took place without risks being taken and tough decisions made. Certainly in the written material available there is no evidence of rancour or bitterness among individuals or segments of the congregation. Nor is there any recollection of deep divisions on issues or the undertaking of various projects on the part of present members who lived through most or all of the period. It is apparent, however, that at times emotions around particular issues were often in conflict and ran high. Tensions had to be relieved. Differences of opinion on how to proceed, on how much to undertake, and how to proceed had to be resolved. Compromises had to be achieved. This surely is what goes on in organizations, whether they be churches or other types. What is worth mentioning regarding Elmwood is that regardless of different perceptions, widely diverse and strongly-held opinions, often vigorously and eloquently put forward in committees and at congregational meetings, leaders and ordinary members alike tried conscientiously and usually successfully to take account of the other side of the question and keep the way open for good decisions.

One example of a large undertaking which took some time to germinate was the building of the Christian Education Wing. It was a large undertaking and represented a big risk for a relatively small congregation with modest means. The financial outlay required would be almost double what it was when the church was erected some 30 years earlier. As with other projects a few individuals had to develop the concept of what needed to be done, promote it among other influential church members and gain the support of the whole congregation for the undertaking. Typical of Elmwood, once the decision was made and the plan accepted, support of the congregation was solid and the project was completed without too many hitches. Another example, also a major undertaking, was the decision to start a new organ. The need to do something about the organ was first addressed seriously in 1967, and within a year a contract was signed with a local organ builder of international reputation to build and install a new organ. The project was completed in 1969. The organ committee, realizing that it would have to face tough questions around the type of organ and another substantial financial undertaking especially from those whose appreciation of church music was at best moderate, decided to engage a consultant in the person of a local organist with a substantial reputation in his field, and to rely on the advise of the organ builder. As well, there are examples of ideas or proposals that died partway through the process. It seems clear, however, mainly from recollections of present members of the congregation, there was seldom a trail of resentment once the decision was made to reject or postpone a specific innovation.