Chapter 4: Ministry

Of Word and Sacrament

In Presbyterian terminology these words are intended to describe the work of an Ordained Minister of the Presbyterian Church in Canada. Seldom have fewer words been used to describe the faith, commitment, dedication, knowledge and abilities required of the congregational minister in the latter half of the 20th century.

Elmwood Ministers

Five ministers, including the present occupant of the Elmwood pulpit have served this congregation.

Frederick W. Gilmour, B.A., D.D., 1925 - 1939. Dr. Gilmour was ordained in 1898 after graduating from McGill University and Presbyterian College in Montreal. By the time he was called to Elmwood in late 1925, he had served in three charges through 27 years. From the 1975 history, and from a few present members who knew him, he emerges as a man with a quiet personality, but friendly with a good sense of humour. He held strong convictions on traditional doctrine which he articulated continually to support his style of leadership and the high standards he set for his followers. In keeping with his position he was seen as a dignified, somewhat reserved man who rarely stepped out of his formal role.

Nonetheless, Dr. Gilmour was a member of the London Curling Club, was an ardent fisherman, and with his wife enjoyed summers at their cottage on Georgian Bay. While at Elmwood, Rev. Gilmour took Sunday afternoon services at Tempo (on Highway 4 south of Lambeth) from 1932 until he retired in 1939. He also taught religion at the local Normal School, (now the Monseigneur Feeney Education Centre).

He received a Doctor of Divinity from Presbyterian College in Montreal in 1935.

Bob Carnegie, a long-time member at Elmwood, whose father was a Presbyterian Minister in the town of Rodney, remembers as a young man, going to dinner with his father and mother at the Gilmours' home on several occasions. Dr. Gilmour often played "baseball" on the flat roof outside his apartment, upstairs in the church home, with his beloved dog Terry. Apparently this clever little dog could run to first, second and third base on signals and bring the ball back to his master. The dog was a great pal of the Minister.

Dr. Gilmour retired in 1939 and died in 1944.

John Fleck, 1939 - 1966. Scotland's loss was certainly Canada's gain, when this factory worker from Falkirk (near Edinburgh) emigrated to Canada in 1927. He enrolled at McGill University and obtained a Bachelor of Arts degree. Subsequently he graduated from Presbyterian College in Montreal and was ordained as a Minister in the Presbyterian Church in Canada.

Again from the 1975 history and several members who knew him, and have clear recollections of his preaching and his work in the congregation and in the community "to know Dr. John Fleck was not to read a personality open as a book. He was a man of many facets and many hidden depths. His form of humour was typically Scottish, with a dry wit. His jest was never satirical when directed at another, but always so when the joke was on himself." And again, "the thing that impressed me most about John was that he was so utterly real, at once one knew that he was a man of God, one whose life was completely dedicated to the service of his God and of his fellow men". Dr. Fleck was first and foremost a preacher. "The contents of the Old and New Testaments were at his fingertips. The Prophets of the Old Testament were not men locked away in antiquity, but living men who lived and breathed, fired by the Spirit of God. So Dr. Fleck brought them to life for us, their message vibrating in the here and now."

Many of those who are still around will remember, speaking of vibrating, that often one could count on John Fleck pounding the pulpit about 10 minutes after the sermon began and quite often again about 20 minutes into the sermon, or 5 or 6 minutes before it ended.

John Fleck was very much in touch with daily life. He was keenly interested in baseball and hockey, and he enjoyed his big Buick. He had great ability to communicate with all segments of society. He conducted evening services, regularly taking a few men of the congregation with him, at Mission Services of London, a hostel for homeless men.

He also taught at the Normal School, and as well was a sessional lecturer at Huron College at the University of Western Ontario. Huron conferred an honorary Doctor of Divinity Degree on him in 1963.

Dr. Fleck died in March 1966, after a brief illness. He collapsed in the pulpit during a Sunday morning service. His wife Eleanor remained an active member of the congregation until her death in 1995 . Their son Ian and daughter Catherine, likewise were at Elmwood until they pursued their careers outside of London.

John Fleck is fondly remembered by many today whose sentiments are best expressed in the words of St. Paul: "It is required in stewards that a man be found faithful ... of faith, a preacher of the word ... a faithful shepherd of the flock, ministering unto the needs of the people - a faithful friend to all who knew him exercising a reverend goodwill to all men."

D. Glenn Campbell, B.A., M.Th., D.D., 1966 - 1981. Dr. Campbell, of Rodney, Ontario, was ordained in 1946, following graduation from the University of Western Ontario, Presbyterian College in Montreal and Princeton Theological Seminary in Princeton, New Jersey. Following 10 years in First Presbyterian Church, Seaforth, and 10 years in McNabb Presbyterian Church in Hamilton, he answered a call from Elmwood in 1966, following the death of Dr. John Fleck. According to his wife Marion, he could easily have remained at McNabb, a well-established, active, substantial congregation where he was highly revered. On "having a look" at Elmwood, he decided his place was where the need was greatest and he accepted the Call. The Campbells, Glenn, Marion, and children Anne and Donald survived a difficult period of adjustment moving from a beautiful old downtown church in a larger city and moving from an elegant Victorian mansion (the manse), to more modest accommodation. Soon, however, their warmth and friendliness meshed well with the receptivity of the Elmwood congregation and Rev. Glenn was again much loved by his "flock" he served for 16 years. He died in 1981 after a prolonged illness.

Highly educated in Theology and Biblical scholarship, Dr. Campbell was a strong preacher in the Presbyterian tradition, but above all else he was a Pastor. He was continually concerned over the well-being, especially the spiritual health of his congregation, was highly aware of their special needs, and was always available to provide comfort and consolation when needed. He believed strongly that the Minister should be "in touch" as much as was required. Actually he followed a plan to visit every family in the congregation at least once a year. While this could not be realized totally, it nonetheless remained as a standard to be met.

His leadership style was less directive than his predecessors, but nonetheless effective. He must be given credit for easing tension between the Kirk Session and the Board of Managers, encouraging extensive renovation to the church buildings, supporting the acquisition of a new organ, and enrichment of the worship service. Dr. Campbell was determined to "open up" the church and was instrumental in having outside organizations contract to use the facilities during the week. Also, he was responsible for getting the ladies to agree to leave the Campbell Room at that time, known as the Ladies' Parlour, open for use by other organizations in the church for their meetings.

Dr. Campbell wrote the meditation feature in the Presbyterian Record for about 16 years, not missing one issue during that time. His Alma Mater, Presbyterian College in Montreal honoured him in 1968, conferring the degree of Doctor of Divinity. The Campbells enjoyed their summer cottage at Lion's Head, where Marion still spends her summers. The cottage has several pieces of furniture crafted by Glenn himself. He was a very competent amateur carpenter.

It would be negligent to describe the Campbell ministry without reference to the role played by Glenn's wife, Marion. She accepted fully the traditional expectations of the "Minister's wife", taking office in women's organizations, acting as hostess, and assisting her husband whenever possible, as well making a home for the family. She excelled in her role and especially in pastoral visiting, sometimes accompanying her husband. She could communicate especially well with the young people who sought her out for a sympathetic ear and some friendly but wise counsel. Marion's warm personality and her ability to put one "at ease" endeared her to all. She had and still has a sixth sense regarding people who might need her presence, to the point where she still gives many hours to visiting those who are homebound or in long-term care. In nearly 20 years after her husband's completion of his ministry, she remains an active and beloved member of Elmwood.

Roderick Ferguson, B.A., M.Div., 1982 - 1988. Following Dr. Campbell's death, Elmwood was without a Minister for over a year. For the first time the Session was moderated by an Interim Moderator. The Rev. Murdo Pollock, Minister of Hamilton Road Presbyterian Church in London, was appointed by Presbytery to the vacant charge. The Interim Moderator is chairman of Kirk Session meetings, is responsible for Pulpit Supply, takes services himself occasionally, and especially is the staff person for the congregation's Search Committee.

Thus, the process of calling the Rev. Ferguson was more elaborate than with former Ministers, conforming to requirements of the Presbytery and the Presbyterian Church in Canada. A congregational profile was presented to the Board of Ministry at the Church Headquarters, and subsequently, resumes of possible candidates were received by the Search Committee. Rev. Ferguson met with the Committee and was recommended to the Kirk Session, and approved for a Call by the congregation. The Fergusons, Rod, Joan and small son Jamie, moved into the newly decorated manse in the summer of 1982, and the Rev. Rod Ferguson took his first service in April, 1982.

Rod Ferguson had been an artist (sculptor), teacher, and also a manager in a moving and cartage business in Montreal. In his mid-30's he decided to enter the Ministry and graduated from Presbyterian College in Montreal.

Elmwood soon realized that here was a Minister who was different. Some members have said of Rod "he broke the mould". This refers to his display of a measure of independence in where he concentrated his efforts, with less reliance on traditional roles such as shepherd of the flock, and more emphasis on delegation of tasks to the congregation through organizations and the committee structure. A strong preacher, he was extremely well-read in English Literature and displayed considerable erudition. He understood administration, introduced formal planning and took part in Presbytery and Presbyterian Church in Canada affairs to a greater extent than Elmwood people were used to. For example, he served on the Board of Ministry of the Presbyterian Church in Canada, and was for a time convenor. This involved frequent trips to church headquarters in Toronto. For the first time "we felt much more connected with the denomination." He was very professional in his approach, but was seen by many as "one of us", not set apart as "the Minister". Because of a different approach, his ministry was not without criticism from some quarters.

Rod was an enthusiastic curler, enjoyed his extensive collection of recorded music and sang in the Fanshawe Symphonic Chorus, one of London's outstanding choral groups. The Fergusons enjoyed camping holidays, travelling to various parts of Canada and the United States. They also enjoyed their own home, purchased in 1984, so did several "workmen and women" who no longer had to be concerned over keeping up a Manse.

Rod left a different congregation in 1988 from that to which he came in 1982. In leadership, in taking initiative, in completing various projects, the congregation was more self-reliant. Worship services were more varied in format and the Ministry of music was enriched. The expectation that the Minister should always be available when called was gradually modified (but not in the minds of all), and replaced by a gradual move toward Pastoral Care being seen as a responsibility shared with the Minister by the Kirk Session and eventually a Pastoral Care Committee.

It was early in Rev. Ferguson's ministry that the practice of holding a "Shut-ins' Communion" annually was established. Volunteers and Elders provided transportation for those who could not attend church regularly but were able to get out to attend the special Communion Service on Sunday afternoon in the late fall. The service was followed by a social hour. This has continued and has always been well attended.

The Ferguson ministry will be remembered by many at Elmwood and the surrounding community because of the Elmwood Seniors' Outreach weekly recreation programme begun in 1987. Rev. Ferguson planted the idea, but left the development to others. This project will be more fully discussed later.

In summary, this younger, very energetic, somewhat private person as Elmwood's Minister for six years, left a more open congregation, perhaps a little less wedded to how things "had to be", and without realizing it, ready for a larger leap into a contemporary congregational lifestyle.

Karen Timbers, B.A., M.R.E., M.Div., 1989 – 1999

Rev. Timbers grew up in Milton, Ontario, and after completing secondary school, enrolled in the combined Arts and Religious Educations course offered at Ewart College in cooperation with the University of Toronto, where she obtained a Bachelor of Arts Degree. After working for some years as a member of the Order of Diaconal Ministry in various Presbyteries in Central Ontario, and acting as Assistant to her former husband, Rev. Gordon Timbers when he was the Minister at Knox Presbyterian Church in Galt, Ontario, she decided to take further training in Religious Education, and enrolled in a graduate program at McMaster University. While studying for a Master's Degree in Religious Education, she took some courses in Theology and decided to complete the work for a Master of Divinity as well. She received both the Master of Religious Education and the Master of Divinity from McMaster University in 1988.

Mrs. Timbers' background in adult education, her extensive experience in working as consultant and facilitator with a variety of different congregations, and her thorough knowledge of the workings of the church as a whole meant that she came to Elmwood in 1989 with a perspective which was new and different. While preaching had not been a large part of her previous experience, she soon displayed a talent for making the scriptures come alive and be relevant for contemporary life. While Rev. Timbers fulfilled the role of Congregational Minister completely, she was above all a teacher. Her subject was the Word of God and the Life of Jesus Christ and her goal was to make the message real throughout congregational life and the lives of her people. Her approach was to create opportunities for "hands-on" experience, demand participation from people in worship and other activities, and to ensure that everyone understood and became committed to the values of diversity and variety in congregational life. Her mission to her congregation was to think globally, and pursue integrity and honesty, making full use of personal gifts and talents. Rev. Timbers, with her boundless energy, her knowledge and creative thinking and planning around problem-solving, her ability to communicate, along with a very friendly, outgoing personality and less formal manner (although she can be the dignified Clergy person when required), had a profound effect on the congregation. From enrichment and variety in worship services to Adult Bible Study dealing with contemporary theological and social issues, to mission work far afield, there was a great deal going on at Elmwood and never in history had the congregation as a whole been so completely involved.

With support from the Kirk Session and the congregation, Rev. Timbers continued to participate in National Church affairs. She was involved with various national committees, curriculum writing, and acted as consultant to congregations in difficulty. She served a term as chairperson of the Presbyterian World Service and Development committee and in that capacity, headed a delegation to Africa where a number of PWS&D projects were assessed in cooperation with the Government of Canada's Canadian International Development Agency.

Kevin Steeper, B.A., M. Div., S.T.B.,M.Ad.Ed., M.A, Dipl. Spir. Dir.  2002 - 2015

The Rev. Kevin Steeper served as Minister of Word and Sacraments at Elmwood for almost thirteen years. He brought to his ministry an extensive formation in theology and Christian spirituality, holding graduate degrees in theology, adult religious education, and a diploma in spiritual direction. While acting as our minister, he pursued doctoral studies at Trinity College, Toronto School of Theology, in the area of Celtic Christianity. He brought to his ministry the passionate understanding that Christianity is a transformational way of life that is lived out in the midst of the ordinary where God is present. Emphasis was given then to the riches of the Christian spiritual tradition, theology, and the relationship between worship and social justice. This resulted, for example, in the establishment of a Centering Prayer group and a "Dream Group" as well as an increase in the celebration of the sacrament of Holy Communion and the institution of a "Hospitality Breakfast"  for those in the community who are in need. Kevin was excited when he witnessed children and especially adults growing and maturing in their faith in Christ so that it led to lives transformed.

In early 2015, Reverend Steeper resigned as minister at Elmwood, having been called to a new ministry at Lakeshore United Church in Goderich, Ontario. Along with his wife, Rev. Kate Ballagh-Steeper, he ministers to a new congregation formed after the amalgamation of three previous churches. 

Andrew Fullerton, B.A., M.Div., Ph.D.

Andrew is a graduate of Knox College, Toronto, and holds a PhD degree from Cambridge University in England. Before coming to Elmwood Avenue in April 2016, he served churches in Quebec and Ontario. For many years he lectured in philosophy and ethics at Knox College, University of Toronto. He was also active in the Boarding Homes Ministry in Toronto. Andrew believes the Church can be a sanctuary of peace where we can learn to love and accept each other, explore the deep questions of life, and serve the world around us with compassion and joy.

Issues, Challenges and Accomplishments

Dr. Gilmour and Dr. Fleck, during his first 10 years were involved in bringing the new congregation to a level of security and stability. For Dr. Gilmour this was the challenge of a small (to begin with) group of people undertaking large financial commitments, but also, as the 1975 History says "to heal the spiritual wounds and overcome the bitterness resulting from Church Union. He had to guide and inspire his 'flock' to great spiritual heights and direct its destiny in South London". Then, there was the depression of the 1930's when the limited financial resources had to be balanced with the continuing determination and enthusiasm of the people of Elmwood to have full measure of what a church should provide. Dr. Fleck, not as experienced to begin with as his predecessor, found the war years a different challenge with the changes in social conditions which ensued. Absence of young adults, shift work and disruptions in family life affected congregational life as did other events at home and abroad.

After the war and throughout the rest of his ministry, Dr. Fleck had in his turn, to deal with expansion in numbers, demands for larger and better facilities, and in the 1960's, the beginning of the changes of social attitudes and values which characterized that decade.

Dr. Campbell had to deal with the effects of rapid social change, criticism of the church as an institution, declining membership and attendance while still meeting the needs of an aging congregation and aging physical facilities. He faced the early manifestation of generational differences in attitude, for example, toward spending money where the younger pressed their elders to "loosen up". His quiet manner and thoughtful approach was instrumental in preventing rifts, resolving issues and affecting compromises.

Dr. Campbell saw the beginnings of the contemporary challenges which the Rev. Ferguson and subsequently the Rev. Timbers have faced head-on. Changing needs, demands and expectations have made for substantial adjustments on all sides. The Rev. Ferguson encouraged less dependency on the Minister, developed connections with community resources, and supported the move toward more modern technical equipment in the church office. 

Rev. Timbers, with her keen sensitivity to new needs in a changing congregation has provided leadership for new groups, encouraged greater involvement of membership in all facets of congregational life, and attracted the large influx of new members with more varied backgrounds, and hence different expectations. She has worked diligently to bring the congregation to a greater appreciation of the spiritual dimensions of life, the values of participation in a caring community and acceptance of differences and variety in lifestyles, yet she has preached the essential values of Christian Life and the message of the gospels in a not always hospitable external environment.

It has been said that the challenge for the Christian Minister and the people is not so much to be successful as to be faithful. Surely the Ministers at Elmwood have been eminently successful in their vocations because they have been entirely faithful. Many Elmwood people would testify to that fact that their Church has been surely blessed by having Ministers, each of whom was "in the right place at the right time".

Reverend Steeper shepherded Elmwood through the early years of a new millennium challenged by a societal decline in religious practice and church attendance. His extensive background as a theological scholar and his focus on pastoral care and teaching was enriching and encouraging for our congregation as we collectively  realized that what is really important is our relationship with God and with each other, no matter the size of the congregation. The establishment of groups such as the Spirituality Group, the Dream Group, Centering Prayer, and Adult Bible Study provided opportunities for small groups to meet to pray and meditate, discuss current biblical and theological issues and trends, and listen to and care for each other. He brought a renewed awareness of the importance and centrality of the sacrament of Holy Communion, as we celebrated it with increased frequency and deeper understanding throughout his ministry. 

Currently, Elmwood is embarking on a new chapter in our life as a congregation as we welcome our new minister, Rev. Dr. Andrew Fullerton.