Chapter 3: 1980 - 1999


The third period in the Elmwood Story is about change and challenge -- a changing church in changing times. With the induction of the Rev. Rod Ferguson in 1982, ministry emphasized different priorities and the congregation took on new responsibilities. Discussing how the church has evolved over the years, more than one member has said that the coming of the Rev. Rod Ferguson marked a turning point. Since the Rev. Karen Timbers, the present minister, came in 1989, priorities have been altered still further and a broader base of ministry has affected all aspects of congregational life with an impact reaching far beyond 111 Elmwood Avenue.

A theme throughout this period is well expressed in the 1985 Supplement (60th Anniversary) to the 50th Anniversary History already mentioned. Although the following statement was written to describe what was happening in the period 1975 - 1985, it seems quite adequate to describe much of what has been happening during the past 20 years:

"These have been years of new ideas, new forms, which had an impact on every aspect of church life. The years of coming face to face with the underprivileged, of coming to recognize the equality of men and women in the various offices of the church, of learning new ways to express our religious sentiments, of coming alive to the fact that, as Christians, we must maintain values increasingly derided by a secular world."

How Elmwood responded and gave concrete form to such new needs and values is the story of the past 20 years.

The Congregation

The size, and particularly, the shape of the congregation is different in 1999 from what it was in 1980. As of December 31, 1980, the role stood at 307. As of the same date in 1998, the role stood at 351. The decline in membership in the late '70's was reversed within two or three years. The role clerk, Jack Gray, believes that the role in recent years represents quite accurately the number of participating members in the congregation, since annual review of the role by the Kirk Session has been in place and attended to consistently for several years.

Numbers, however, do not tell the whole story. Perhaps more significant than numbers in this period is turnover. Losses through death have been particularly high over and above the usual losses due to relocation, or simply dropping out. New members coming to Elmwood through profession of faith and transfer of membership have been annually very high since 1983, and especially during the mid-'90's. From time to time the minister has reviewed the status of new members to determine the percentage who continue in membership over a period of years. These reviews have indicated that approximately 75% of new members continue in membership more or less permanently. A study by the Long Range Planning Committee in 1997 showed that the turnover in membership throughout the 8-year period from 1989 was over 50%. 
A fairly comprehensive survey of characteristics of the congregation including age, gender, family status, income level and type of employment was undertaken in 1983. This survey indicated, among other things, that the average age of the membership of the congregation was over 65 years. While this survey has not been repeated, other work by the Long Range Planning Committee indicates that the average age has dropped possibly more than 5 years and that there has been an increase in young families with young children coming to Elmwood regularly. As well there are more single adults. Many of these come into membership.

New Needs, New Responses

In any organization, new people bring new energy and new vitality, but they also bring new needs. Hence, existing organizations within the congregation have had to branch out to accommodate and new groups have been established. Perhaps because of initiatives of the National Church, but certainly because of personal interests and priorities of both Rev. Ferguson and Rev. Timbers during this period, connections with the Presbyterian Church in Canada have been stronger than in the past. Elmwood has always been a strong contributor to the General Assembly budget (in earlier years commonly known as Missions), now known as Presbyterians Sharing. For example, the Annual Financial Statements for the years 1955, 1960 and 1965 indicate that a sum equal to from 20 to 25% of the annual operating budget was forwarded to the Mission Board of the Presbyterian Church in Canada. While, in recent years, with large increases in expenditures, the proportion allocated to Presbyterians Sharing has levelled off, personal and financial support for outreach work, for example in cooperation with Presbyterian World Service and Development has been substantial.

Elmwood has always been conscious of needs in the local community, and has consistently contributed financially to various charitable organizations from time to time, as well as occasionally assisting individuals or families in need. A highlight of the present period has been the Seniors' Outreach Programme, begun in 1987 and continuing, offering recreational activities, Bible Study and crafts.

Regular collections of non-perishable foods for the London Food Bank and supplies for Rothholme, a women's shelter, present another form of community outreach that has been ongoing for some years.


Women have always fulfilled a vital role at Elmwood. During the past 20 years, however, there has been full recognition of the equality of men and women in all aspects of church life. By 1980 there were 5 women as members of the Kirk Session carrying full responsibilities as Elders, and by 1998, the number had risen to 13. Of four new Elders ordained in 1999, three were women. All major committees have at one time or another been chaired by women, the first woman to be the chairperson of the Board of Managers was Trudy VanderHoek in 1983, and she served for four years. At the time of writing, Ruth Ann Drozd is in her second term as chairperson of the Board. That women should take their place as full participants in all aspects of congregational life has never been an issue at Elmwood. When in 1989, the Search Committee and the Kirk Session recommended calling the present Minister, the call got full support from the congregation. The matter of gender (i.e. that Elmwood has a woman as Minister), as far as can be determined, was not a consideration.

That the ladies became involved in all phases of congregational life should be taken quite literally. Some got into mixing paint instead of batter, handling paint rollers instead of rolling pins, and paint brushes instead of pastry brushes. The redecorating and refurnishing of the Campbell Room in 1989, and the complete renovation and modernization of the kitchen in 1994 were projects undertaken by women mainly of the Friendship Circle with some assistance from various tradesmen when necessary.

From the Pulpit

Different styles of ministry "from the pulpit" and the interests of new members, some with different backgrounds and experience in other churches have brought about greater variety in liturgy and participation by lay people. Christmas Eve Candlelight Service of Lessons and Carols, including an early evening brief service designed for children, and a Maundy Thursday Communion service, are well-established. Another way the congregation is made more aware of the church year is the variations in the order of service and of the liturgy to mark special occasions. Maintaining Christian values in a Secular society where powerful forces challenge and often deride or denigrate the importance a faith community is a formidable task. Making concern for the public good at least equal to, if not beyond, concern for individual needs alone and upholding traditional ethical and moral standards is likewise a very complex matter. In the present period of the Elmwood story, both Ministers and the Kirk Session have tried to provide leadership and opportunities for discussion of current issues, within a Biblical and when appropriate a denominational context. Examples indicate religious education in public schools, the church and a variety of family forms and relationships which are found in the modern community, and issues around sexuality in present day society. 

At Elmwood during the past 20 years it is apparent that people have become more involved, with increasing openness to less formal patterns of worship, and a conscious effort to make the experience of belonging as meaningful as possible.


The issues and problems around Stewardship in the present period are similar to those earlier, with the main difference being greatly increased need in all areas. Expansion of activities through organizations and groups has required more in the way of leadership and other talents, as well as time. The financial outlay required for ordinary operations, property maintenance and renovations, and special projects has grown substantially during the past 20 years. Financial contributions from the congregation have also increased substantially, but not without increasing pressure to "make ends meet". The Board of Managers has had to undertake its financial planning with great care. The "tight money" situation throughout the '90's with no levelling off of costs has presented difficulties. It appears that the turnover in membership already mentioned has been another problem, since the contributions of newer, younger members do not always match those of older, more established members, who have passed on.

The first budget of over $100,000 was set in 1984. Ten years later, in 1994, it was over $200,000, reaching $225,000 (estimated) in the present year, 1999. These figures, of course, do not include proceeds of a variety of fundraising events held by the different church organizations to support mainly outreach projects. These endeavours have continued to account for at least an additional 25% in most years, of the funds raised and spent at Elmwood.

Again in this period, the congregation has received substantial gifts through bequests. These have made possible the financing of expensive maintenance and repairs to the building and continuance of the practice of making grants to selected charitable organizations in London.


During the early and middle years of Elmwood Church, the concern over property focussed mainly on acquisition, construction and expansion. During the '80's and '90's the focus has shifted to maintenance and repairs. While much work has been done by members of the congregation, much had to be contracted out. By 1985, the year of the church's 60th Anniversary the main building was nearly 60 years old and the church home well over 100 years old. Re-roofing which went on over a period of years was a major undertaking. Orders from the Fire Marshall requiring the church to meet upgraded fire regulations which the Board had been sidestepping for a few years finally had to be undertaken in 1983. The total cost of a new internal stairway, fireproof doors and other requirements was about $60,000. A bequest came at the right time to make this expenditure possible. About the same time the old heating system was breathing its last. An assessment by a local firm of heating contractors recommended an entirely new system which was installed about the same time and financed from another bequest. A new gas-fired system with five zone controls resulted in substantial annual savings thereafter on the cost of heating, as well as providing much comfort throughout the building. A few years later an air conditioning system was installed for the church offices. The air conditioning of the entire building was suggested and discussed, but finally rejected by the congregation at an annual meeting.

By 1991 after some 20 years the Sanctuary was again in need of refurbishing. This project was undertaken in the summer of that year with very satisfactory results. Wood panelling replaced the wallpaper wainscotting and new carpet was installed. Around that time also a wheelchair ramp was installed at the east entrance on the north side of the church home.

Additional stained glass windows, again designed and assembled by Christopher Wallis, the same artist who made the original set of eight windows were installed from time-to-time with the final window above the main entranceway installed in 1997. These included the half-circular window in the doorway from the Sanctuary to the Narthex and the four windows named after the four gospel writers in the Narthex proper. Especially interesting are the two circular windows in the chancel, also done by Mr. Wallis in memory of Dr. Glenn Campbell. Thus all the windows in the Sanctuary and the Narthex are now stained glass.

Property has continued, therefore, to be a substantial preoccupation of the Kirk Session, the Board of Managers and the congregation, requiring a great deal of resources in time, talents and money.


The story of Elmwood would be incomplete without reference to a few of the men and women whose names stand out in reports and minutes, because of their remarkable talents, continuous work in the church and exemplary faith and commitment. Several are still remembered with respect and affection, by many in the congregation today.

For the author to deal with personalities is risky. Selection is difficult, given limits of space, information available (or lack of), and personal pre-disposition. Others would no doubt have made different decisions on whom to include. It is hoped that this selection is representative and fulfils the intent of mentioning briefly some few people who were surely a blessing to Elmwood.

Among the charter members, three men were especially prominent.

Archibald MacDonald

Archibald MacDonald was well-known throughout southwestern Ontario as a representative for a farm implement company. He was for many years a member of Knox Presbyterian Church, and chairman of their Board of Managers. Also, one of the original six, he became a member of the building committee and was largely responsible for the planning and building of the new church. He died suddenly in 1927, but he had seen the new building completed. Within two years one of his last wishes was fulfilled. The congregation raised sufficient funds to purchase a Communion Table which was dedicated as a memorial to him, at Easter, 1928. This beautiful custom-made table is still in use.

C. J. Farr

C. J. Farr a Wortley Road merchant, who had a feed store at the corner of Wortley Road and Bruce Street, where the present Tuckey Hardware stands. He was one of the original six and Clerk of Session at Elmwood for 25 years. He died in 1963. His niece, Myrtle McCallum, one of a few surviving charter members, lives in Delhi, Ont.

Harmand Westland was the first Superintendent of the Sunday School and continued in that office for several years. He is described as a very jolly enthusiastic gentleman who was very good with the children and young people.

M. D. "Mel" Baldwin

M. D. "Mel" Baldwin joined the Board of Managers in 1935. He continued on the Board for several years, and was an Elder until his death in 1983. Mel Baldwin was Superintendent of the Sunday School and was a leader in many different facets of congregational life. The Baldwin Room bears his name. He became principal of Lord Simcoe Public School, which during his time was in a depressed area of London. Generations of his pupils benefitted from his friendly advice and his knack of getting practical help for their families in need.

E. C. "Ed" McKenzie

E. C. "Ed" McKenzie also joined the Board of Managers in 1935. He served as a Board Member for many years, was Superintendent of the Sunday School, and was an Elder until he became inactive in 1995. For some years after its inception, Mr. McKenzie was a regular attender at the Thursday Elmwood Seniors' Community Outreach Centre. His wife Emma McKenzie was as much a presence at Elmwood as her husband Ed. She, along with her friend Kathleen Gray, was largely responsible for the famous lunches put on regularly by the Friendship Circle as money raisers. On occasion up to 200 persons attended these luncheons. For several years, few social events of consequence took place at Elmwood without Emma McKenzie being behind the scenes. The McKenzies have five children, all whom were active at Elmwood. Ed is presently living in a retirement home. Emma died in 1998.

The part played by womens' organizations in building the new congregation has already been noted. A few names are prominent in reports and minutes. These ladies are mentioned very briefly because information about them is scarce.

Several ladies who were active in the early congregation were: Mrs. F. W. Gilmour, who was the wife of the first minister. She is said to have been a friendly but very dignified lady who was conscious of her social position in the congregation, but who took her part in womens' organizations. Mrs. D. W. Love, along with Mrs. Lillian Reid, who was the first president helped organize the Women's Association in 1925. Mrs. W. E. Kelly was the first president of the Women's Missionary Society. Mrs. E. J. Goodman was the first president of the Gilmour Evening Auxiliary of the WMS, formed to accommodate younger women who wished to participate in WMS work, but found it more convenient to meet in the evening.

John Wigle

John Wigle was an active member of Elmwood for about 50 years. He was a Chartered Accountant, and congregational treasurer (voluntary) and Clerk of Session. He was involved in organizing most of the every-member visitations during the 1970's. John Wigle died in 1982. His wife Jean, although not an active member at Elmwood, was supportive of her husband's church work and of their children's participation. The Wigles had eight children, all of whom were prominent in Sunday School, Youth Groups, and Sunday School teaching. Two trees on the front lawn at 111 Elmwood Avenue were planted and dedicated by the children in memory of their parents in 1991.

John Oram

John Oram's history of involvement at Elmwood is somewhat similar to that of John Wigle. A Chartered Accountant, he was in turn congregational treasurer, and Clerk of Session. His wife Margaret, for many years, was a leading member of the Friendship Circle. The Orams' three children were active in Sunday School. John Oram died suddenly in 1992. Margaret still lives in the family home.

Gordon and Belle Hands

Gordon and Belle Hands came to Elmwood Church in 1945 from Ridgetown, with their two children, Violet Ilene and Raymond. They quickly became involved in the Elmwood congregation. Gordon was a leader in the early years of the Men's Club, and did his share of "handyman" work around the church. He was also involved with the Scout Troop. He was an Elder. His wife Belle was involved with the cub pack and the Sunday School. As record-keeper, she was known to the children as "The Pen Lady". Their daughter, Violet Fitchett, is at present an Elder, and with her husband Larry is very active in the congregation. Gordon Hands died in 1969. His wife Belle lives in a retirement home in London.

Barbara Weir

Barbara Weir is remembered for her quiet manner, but very effective presence at worship, as an Elder, in the Sunday School and other church organizations. A deaconess before her marriage, she continued after to use her talents and her training in many ways. In her later years, she was a voluntary hospital chaplain on behalf of the Presbytery of London, at St. Joseph's and Victoria Hospitals. Her husband Bill was an Elder and served a term as Roll Clerk. The Weirs were a very devoted couple who travelled the 50-mile round trip from their home in Thorndale to Elmwood, in winter or summer, rain or shine. Barbara died in 1994. Bill attends St. Mary's Presbyterian Church near his home.

Isobelle and Lorretta MacLeish

Isobelle and Lorretta MacLeish were prominent members until the 1960's. Their father, Archibald and his wife Susanah, moved from Adelaide Township to London in 1909 when the first of their six children started high school. Isobelle taught at several elementary schools in London, and was a leader in the Young Peoples' Society at Elmwood. She was featured in the plays and musicals performed by the Y.P.S. Lorretta worked for the McLary manufacturing company, and after retirement became the first official secretary (voluntary), at Elmwood. She worked for Dr. Fleck until his death in 1966. Isobelle died in 1965, and Lorretta in 1969. Their nephew, Ed McLeish was been an Elder at Elmwood for over twenty years.

Henry James

Henry James with his wife Patricia and three children, came to Elmwood in 1978. He was a big man with exceptional physical strength and energy. An elementary school teacher, and outstanding scout leader, he was very knowledgeable and skillful in many areas from carpentry to cooking, but also in organizational and committee work. These, along with his friendly outgoing personality ensured that he would be a leader in any group in which he was involved. Henry was largely responsible for initiating the Men's Club projects at Camp Kintail which will be described in Chapter 9. He served as an Elder for several years. Henry's death in 1998 was a shock to his family and to the congregation. His wife Patricia, also an Elder, has been active in the Friendship Circle and in connection with the Resource Centre.