James Bay United Church, planted from the seeds of a Methodist Sunday School,has been a spiritual home for people in the neighbourhood and beyond for more than 120 years.
In that time the vitality of the congregation has ebbed and flowed. Just when the church was on the verge of closing, there was a great surge of life in the late 1960’s to mid 70’s, a time of extra-ordinary contribution to the well-being of the neighbourhood. The minister at the time, Ken Wood, shared a particular passion for connecting with the surrounding community.
An Action Committee was formed to listen to people in the neighbourhood and discover their pressing needs and desires. From there the story goes on to describe the birth, in remarkable short order, of the James Bay Community Association, the James Bay New Horizons, the James Bay Community Project and Wellness Centre, the James Bay monthly newspaper, the James Bay Beacon,… all developed through the work of the Action Committee in conjunction with partners in the neighbourhood.
When asked where did all the energy come from, to make so much happen in such a short time? Marion Woods, one of the movers and shakers of the congregation said, “I’ve been asked many times to try and explain how it happened. I can say first that it takes a lot of love and caring. In our instance this comes from our love of God as we know him in Jesus Christ. Secondly, one must be ready to listen and follow the lead of the Holy Spirit as one hears and recognizes it in others. … All I can say is that we were caught up in a movement that simply flowed and there was no stopping it.”
The story keeps rolling out … with the birth of Beckley Farm Lodge, the Association for Street Kids, and the James Bay United Church Thrift Shop. The Thrift Shop is in a heritage building listed on the Heritage Register. It has recently undergone major renovations and continues to welcome donations. There is an article outlining the history of the building in the May, 2017 James Bay Beacon.
While this period in our history stands out for the visible marks it has made in the neighbourhood, all along there has been a core of people who have “tended the fire,” doing their part in sustaining a gathering place for people to deepen their life with God and grow in their care for the world.
This article in the James Bay Beacon has photos of the church in 1891 & 2013. James Bay United Church is listed in the Heritage Register. The building has a restored colour scheme & was repainted in 2015. It is #12 on this list of historical churches. The Thrift Shop & Church buildings have been the subject of a unique piece of artwork.
In 2016 the JBUC website and Facebook page were revived and and updated. Since then there have been over 15,000 visitors from 20 countries view the website.