A history of Rowntree Memorial United Church, London On.
The first home for the congregation was a white frame building trucked from North Bay by the Home Mission Board and situated on a concrete block foundation and occupying seven lots at Elliott and Cheapside. The building was dedicated April 11, 1948, and by July the congregation numbered 35. In the first year the congregation more than doubled with young families, Sunday School and mid-week activities. Our first minister was Rev. Gillies Eadie, we were a two-point charge with Richards Memorial and our name was Bellwood Park United, after the area we are was situated in.
By the early 50’s the congregation was bursting at the seams, and the Sunday school was 300 children, so the idea was to build a bigger sanctuary. In October 1953 the Official Board named a building committee and a year later a campaign to raise funds started. By May 1955 $10,000 had been raised or pledged with the slogan ‘ Buy Bricks, Build Bellwood’ . On one night every home in the area was canvassed, and the night chosen happened to be a on a driving rain- storm, the result was many non-members donated, noting the tenacity of the members.
At this time an offer came from Mr. and Mrs. Chester Rowntree, members of Metropolitan, to donate $35,000 if the following conditions were met; renaming the church from Bellwood to Rowntree in memory of his parents- George and Phoebe Ann Rowntree, the church should be adequate as a church and religious centre, that it should honor its denomination and be a source of pride to the donors. On April 1955 this offer was accepted and a Board of Trustees was appointed to oversee the property assets. Rev Anne Graham was by now the minister. The new building was dedicated March 4, 1956.
In 1974 our longest serving minister began his tenure: Rev Doug Warren. Rev. Warren’s beginning coincided with a ‘Twenty-Five Year Checkup’ report produced by the department of Sociology at UWO. It noted some of the trends and mentioned a decline in adult membership and church school ( peak membership in 1962 of 489 fell to 65 by 1974) and an increase in secular activity. The report was a challenge to both the congregation and the new minister, and the response was that the downward trends were reversed. One important part of the out-reach program was a non-denominational Fellowship Hour held on Sunday evenings; a period of singing and bible discussion. Attendance was usually around 75 people. Other important factors in the turnaround; an active program of preaching and teaching, regular family visitation and calls to the sick by the minister. The 1982 Annual Report showed a membership of 389. Rev Warren served Rowntree until in 1987.
In 1997 a Visioning Committee was formed and under the leadership of Rev. Dr. Mark Giuliano, resulted in the formation of a new constitution involving Elders, a Board and Family Mission Groups, effective Jan 1998. Also part of this was our new mission statement; Reaching In, Reaching Out, Reaching Others.
Reaching In – We accept our common call to an inward journey of faith together through prayer, personal development and intentional times of celebration and praise to God.
Reaching Out – We accept our call to serve beyond ourselves through personal and shared mission, justice work and social action.
Reaching Others – We accept our call to share the Good News of Jesus Christ with others and invite them to be part of God’s kingdom.
1998 was the 50th anniversary of Rowntree and this was celebrated in different services right through the year. One highlight was a re-enactment of the Last Supper on Maunday Thursday. ‘ Rev Mark’ wrote a song ; ‘My Hands to Yours’ marking the anniversary that was performed many times that year.
By 2007 Rowntree’s fortunes had turned and we were was going through some tough years. At a Congregational Meeting in October the membership voted to look into amalgamating, vrs. closing, mostly based on financials. By now volunteers did the work of the secretary and janitor, Rev. Ralph Ingleby, kept our spirits up from the pulpit.
In April 2008 Val Hodgins was appointed ‘weekend- supply’ ( in name only !!) and the divisions in our own church body eventually healed. But we knew that we’d have to join with another church and many other United Church’s were in much the same boat at that time as Rowntree. Many meetings ensued and prayers were said to try and discern where the good Lord wanted us to go.
The year 2011 was a monumental one for Rowntree; on Jan 2nd 40 members transferred from Robinson United after their amalgamation with Colborne St. United. The large, weekly meal project that Robinson had been running since 1996 had moved here the year before; the average attendance in 2013 is aprox. 80 guests. Our chancel and organ were rebuilt in-house in 2011 using some of the funds that accompanied the Robinson members. Six beautiful stained-glass panels from Robinson were mounted in the sanctuary. The UCW – United Church Women’s group- was restarted with more than 30 members. Finally, Dec 31 2011 marked the last day of Val Hodgins as our spiritual leader and the last day of the church known as Rowntree Memorial United Church.
On Jan 1 2012 Rowntree and Wellington amalgamated to form a new church, their history together is just starting. With the Wellington folks came a large infusion of money which is funding many projects and improvements; bussing for our seniors, air- conditioning for the sanctuary, a video-projection system, improved seating and many building improvements. Our Interim Minister was Rev. Judith Gilliland.
Sept 1, 2015 Rev. Wendy Noble called to ministry at Rowntree. We look forward to writing a long and faithful history together in Christ’s name.
Ministers 1948- present
1944- 1951 – Rev. Gillies Eadie
1951- 55 – Rev. Angus Taylor , Rev. A.W. Horne, assoc minister.
1955-1963- Rev. Anne Graham
1963-1967- Rev. F.W. Schmidt
1967- Rev. (Major ) Harold Robbins, interim, Chaplain at Wolsley Barracks
1967-1970- Rev. Norman Jones
1970-1971- Mr. Earl Coulter ( ordained May 1971)
1971-1972- Rev. Fred Darnell, interim
1972-1974- Rev. W. Robert Hussey
1974-1987- Rev. Doug Warren
1987-1988- Rev. George Goth, interim
1988-1990- Rev. Isagani Lazaro
1990-1994- Rev. Connie DenBok
1994-1995 – Rev. Charles Scott, interim
1995-2001 – Rev. Dr. Mark Giuliano
2001- Rev. Dr Frank Meadows, interim
2001- 2007 – Rev. Warren Hudson
2007- 2008- Rev. Ralph Ingleby
2008- 2011- Val Hodgins
2012 – Rev. Judith Gilliland, Interim
Sept 2015 to present – Rev. Wendy Noble