VITTORIA BAPTIST CHURCH

Vittoria Baptist Church

 

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A discrepancy will be noted in that both 1804 and 1803 are listed as dates for this historic church's beginning. After the first 100 years, minutes became available and known from our original New York beginning that, indeed, indicated 1803 was the actual date when the Church Fellowship was organized. We originally affiliated with the Shaftesbury Association of N.Y., and as Upper Canada became more organized, affiliation was changed to what was to become known as the Norfolk Association of Baptist Churches - our present tie.

It was after the British Revolutionary War, that many British Empire Loyalists from some of the new American States, as well as some who had already settled in what is now known as New Brunswick, came to settle in this area. In 1792, it is thought that there wasn't a house in the Long Point area. When Governor Simcoe 'opened the door of this area' to settlers, great numbers started arriving. Many of them literally guided in by the Indians on their trails. Building a rude home, and clearing the land - a most difficult task - speaks of the courage and tenacity of these early settlers.

In 1798, a Titus Finch arrived, and not only built a family home on Young's Creek, but also earnestly and effectively 'shared the Gospel' with other immigrant families. While in the east, he was 'recognized' as one with deep devotion - both to Christ, and 'sharing' the Gospel. By 1803, a goodly number were meeting in the home of Oliver Mabee (east of the village), and the new Church was organized. Two missionaries from N.Y. assisted in this beginning. Interestingly, Titus Finch was not baptized until 1804, and then ordained in 1807. These offices were both ministered by the N.Y. Missionaries. In 1804, a log Church was erected on Oliver Mabee's property, and served the Church Family for a few years.

In 1807, on an acre of land - again, Oliver Mabee's property - a bit further east and north of the village, plans were made for a new church building, and a grave site alongside. It was quite large, and enhanced by a three-sided gallery. It might not have been completed for occupancy that year. Unfortunately, church records have not been found for the first twenty years of the church history - yet another serious lack of records is evident in the late 1800's.

While Titus Finch is listed as the pastor from 1803 to 1827, it appears that it was often more of just being an over- seeing pastor. For he was released to do church-planting - in an Apostle Paul manner - and evangelistic work, in quite a wide surrounding area. He is mentioned as helping and serving in Woodstock, Ingersoll and Aylmer. Layman conducted the services here while he was away - the names of Oliver Mabee and George Ryerse are mentioned in that regard.

140 believers were baptized between 1820 and 1840. This first church very soon entered into a vital role as a mother church to new causes in the surrounding area. Just to qualify this church-planting role, it has been observed, that some of the new beginnings were really those from a distance who came to this work; and as more settlers - and subsequent believers - multiplied to become a new village or centre, they requested the 'mother church' to release them to commence a new work closer to their location. So, as the impetus came from members of the 'mother church', this is indeed still church-planting.

Giving an idea of the early activity in this regard, the following statistical story is both impressive and remarkable. In 1828, 31 members became the nucleus of a new work at Stoney Creek (not the present city of that name, adjoining Hamilton). In 1835, 33 became starter members at what is now Delhi. The next year, 40 were dismissed to the Kerne Settlement, which is now Forestville Then in 1847, 8 members, with the aid of Miss M. J. Mabee to procure a purchase property, commenced the Simcoe work.

In spite of the above-reported tremendous depletion of members, the Church continued to prosper and grow - the principle is called 'multiplying by dividing'. Thus, larger facilities were required. A Building Committee was struck to seek a new location, and the plans for the new church building. Their efforts resulted in the red brick building at 11 Lamport Street, which is still our current Church. An interesting side note is that the now old church building on the cemetery hill, was sold for $40.50.

So 49 years after the initial work commenced, this new edifice was dedicated on Sunday, May 30, 1852. As originally constructed, a choir loft was in a balcony over the main front entrance. In 1886 that balcony was removed, and the still present choir location built.

Also the present stained glass windows replaced the ordinary glass in the Sanctuary. As well, the original straight- backed pews were removed, and replaced with the ones still in use today. They have wrought iron ends - and, men's hat racks that are still attached under the pews. Over 200 can be accommodated in this striking-looking Sanctuary - oft referred to as beautiful!

In 1895, the Sunday School addition was built - still capable of handling 150 students. The basement under the church was far from spacious or adequate but many years elapsed before a needed upgrading took place. It still served well and it is amazing how many social events were catered to in those facilities.

The church at this time was still robust and thriving. As was the case with Baptists at this time, requirement for church attendance and financial support was a must - far different from the general approach today. Also, church discipline was very strict, and factions were met by a visit from church leaders to seek repentance on the part of the accused. If repentance was not forthcoming, church membership could be - and would be - removed, until the matter was corrected - the same rule applied to pastors, and was often exercised.

Rev. Thomas Doolittle was the minister when the 100th Anniversary arrived in 1904, and significant observances were arranged. Unfortunately, from 1880-1920, church minutes are not in evidence, so very little light can be shed on that time frame. Sunday School appears to have commenced in 1877, although Association records indicate a S. S. in 1829. BYPU was first mentioned in 1900.

A word on facility improvements: In 1939 the Cantelon oil painting at the front of the church, "Come Unto Me," was completed and dedicated as a gift from the JOY Sunday School Class. In 1952, after many years of owning and\or renting many parsonages, the present one was built at 9 Lamport St., which is just north of the Church. It was dedicated on April 20, 1952 - just a month before the 100th year since the dedication of the new church. In 1961, work was completed on the updating of the basement, and putting in efficient kitchen facilities, that are still being used. In 1964, the original 12-14 inch pine boards on the Sanctuary floor were still shrinking, making the cracks between ever wider, and therefore not only dangerous, but also very difficult to keep clean. With the uneven surfaces caused by the knots becoming higher, a torgonal floor covering was installed.

World War I impacted the Church, as it did every facet of Canadian life. A movement from the area during and following the war, was continued during the depression years of the 1930's. This caused a declining membership, and following the war, was continued during the depression years of the 1930's. This caused a declining membership, and that trend continued through the 1940's.

In the '40's too, it became the practice to have student pastors from McMaster. Most stayed until after their graduation and their ordination, and then accepted calls to other churches. In 1967, a Vittoria-Walsh yoked field was set up. Walsh withdrew from this arrangement in 1980, leaving Vittoria on its own once more. Membership stood at 32. In 1983, a two-point was started with Port Rowan, but they withdrew in 1986 to affiliate with the Mennonites in that area. 30 members, and 25 in the Sunday School was the count then, with the latter closing a short time later.

In 1986, an emergency meeting was called, inviting both members and adherents - present ones, as well as past - to discuss and decide on the subject, "Do we close?² 42 were in attendance. It was pre-decided, that for those voting to stay open, it was a commitment to support the Church regularly, both financially and attendance-wise. The "stay open"vote passed by 60%. Sunday speakers, with many laymen being included, were being used. The church decided, starting in early 1987, to seek retired part-time pastors, and the second one is now the incumbent.

Whatever the future is for this God-blessed and used Church, let it be said that ever so many of the "great cloud of witness", both past and present, will hear God's "Well done, good and faithful servant! When the Cantelon painting which now graces the front of the Vittoria Baptist Church was being refurbished, workmen were surprised to discover this mural of Mount Nebo concealed behind it.

In conclusion, two lists of names will be given. The first one will be the many surnames of members and adherents. For space conservation, a surname will only be listed the one time, representing all - either successive generations, or siblings, or even other families. The second one is a historic listing of the surnames of all of the ordained ministers who have served this Church.

Layfolk: Finch, Mabee, Barber, Lanning, Montross, Smith, Teeple, Gustin, Johnston, Merrill, MacCleish, Shearer, Henderson, Stone, Kitchen, Terhune, Chadwick, Hatch, Haven, Ryerse, Marshall, Pow, Fisher, Young, Oakes, Gundry, Cook, Winter, Van Wagoner, Wilson, Keepin, Thompson, Montrose, Lloyd, Brooker, Howick, Brook, Forrest, Cronk, Bullock, Holloway, Showers, Dawson, McCall, Ferris, Everett, Coles, Bezzo, Wyckoff, Johnstone, Sinclair, Hicks, Collver, Laurie, Schram, Oaks, Dickson, Meane, Muth, Barker, Howse, Cooper, Hawke, Bingleman, Attkinson, Elsom, Jarvis, Dick, Gardner, Shortt, Moore, Snow, Stanley, Waldick, Heath, Taylor, Dickson, Cox, Volka, Swing, Bennett, Hood, Danley, Cookson, Cook, Sinden, Epple, Brown, Kern, Lamport, Goodland, Webster, Ewing, Gill, Bellamy, May, Vail, Dawson, Beaupre, Briggs, Bowden, Hackett, Forest, Aitken, Dyer, Close, Earl, Cable, Mels, Cowan, Clayton, Norman, McKenzie, Dolan, Dutton, Wippel.

Clergy: Finch, Ryerse, McDormand, Mabee, Stewart, Smith, Barrell, Rees, Elliot, Nichols, Olney, Ryerse, Duncan, Walker, Rowe, Gastellow, Baldwin, Clerihew, Vining, Cocks, Sinclair, Reddick, McGregor, Phillimore, Newton, Shields, Bovington, Doolittle, Watson, Sneyd, McLeod, Hurlbut, Bennett, Schoffield, Brooker, Coles, Windus, James, Aseltine, Stainger, Patch, Roberts, Williams, Managhan, Ward, Pridham, Simpson, Webster, Davis, Tobey, Kaye, Davidson, Watt.

There have been several histories of the Vittoria Baptist Church written over the years. This presentation simply features "gleanings" taken from the copies I was able to access. There of course will be included, an updating from the concluding date of these resources up to the present time. The following are the sources used: E. A. Owen - Pioneer Sketches of Long Point Settlement - 1898; Rev. Thomas Doolittle (pastor) - 100th Anniversary Booklet History - 1904; Rev. George Stainger (pastor) - 150th Anniversary Booklet History -1953; Rev. Adolph Hahn - History, First Baptist Church Charlotteville (Vittoria) - 1987.

Written by Rev. George Watt in 1996.