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Oct 24, 2013  |  Vote 0    0

Britannia church marks 140 years of change, community

Ottawa West News
By Steph Willems

Community - To say the Britannia community has changed a bit since 1873 would be a ridiculous understatement. While the population, built form and demographics are vastly different than 140 years ago, a strong sense of community remains, especially inside the area's oldest church.

Celebrating its 140th anniversary this year, Britannia United Church, located at 985 Pinecrest Rd., started life as a Methodist congregation, with the original structure located at present-day Carling Avenue and Britannia Road. The church is planning a retrospective during a special anniversary service on the morning of Oct. 27.

"There's been a lot of change in the community since the little church on the hill started," said Minister Jim Baldwin.

"We keep the past up front and look to it to see what works, and carry that with us... On the 27th, we're going to be looking forward. We're saying, 'yes, we know the past, but how do we as a church and congregation move forward?'" In 1873, the population of Ottawa was about 23,000 people, clustered mainly in the Centretown and Lowertown areas. A vast gulf of mainly agricultural land separated Britannia from the growing city to the east.

In 1899, a streetcar line connected the area, including the popular Britannia Beach, with the city proper. The gulf steadily shrank as the city reached out to meet, then surround, the community.

The current church was constructed in 1960 - the same year its minister was born - once the congregation had raised enough money to build the beginnings of the structure. Starting first with the fellowship hall, more sanctuary and community space was added on as budgets allowed.

During the Oct. 27 service three congregation members, of widely differing ages, will reflect on what the church means to them.

Britannia United has bucked the trend of dwindling, aging congregations by heading in the opposite direction, attracting new members (and increasing numbers of young ones) by changing with the times, much like the surrounding community, while remaining rooted in inclusivity. Each week an average of 160 to 180 congregation members show up.

"When I came to the church (13 years ago), our oldest committee member said that if you want to survive as a church, you need to change," said Baldwin. "That's been my mantra."

In 1977, the church was made fully wheelchair accessible, heralding the many changes aimed at inclusivity that were to follow.

Knowing that acceptance, tolerance and love, coupled with a supportive community, lead to positive outcomes for gay youth, the church placed universally-recognized rainbow flags outside the hall last year, next to the church's sign. Those flags began disappearing, so Baldwin had the rainbow incorporated into the sign and logo for the church itself, preventing tampering.

Among the congregation are a growing number of LGBT residents, as well as a growing African demographic.

Baldwin wants the church to be accepted as part of the community, and wants it to reflect the diverse community that surrounds it.

"It's important to have a place where kids feel they belong, and where they get to see a cross-section of life," said Baldwin. "The issues may have changed, but the welcome you'll receive is the same."

As part of the 140th anniversary celebrations, members are raising funds to add landscaping and a flower bed along the north side of the property. The Quarter-Quarter Mile Fundraiser is seeking to raise a quarter mile of quarters, totaling $3,960.

Intended as a legacy project, the church has so far raised more than a third of this sum.

Baldwin said that given the congregation's continued commitment to practicing good stewardship with its funds, the church retains the original look. The big fellowship hall that was once planned didn't come to fruition, as the church felt its money could be put to better use in the community.

"It's built like a shoebox, and looks like a school," admitted Baldwin. "Before we had the sign put in, we'd have people drive into the parking lot, asking where the church was."

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