Our Church - Our Parish - Our Story
It was an interesting request made of us, the members of New Sumner Parish. “Tell your story about you and your church.”
Interesting and challenging because, as we’ve realized since being presented with the request, each of us has not only our own story, but our own way of telling it.
The Parish of New Sumner itself has a story to tell, dating back to 1970 when it was a largely rural entity formed through an amalgamation of congregations from four different parishes: Saltcoats, Rocanville, Melville and Broadview. It’s an historical story of changes, many responding to diminishing congregations and resultant problems in affording priests.
Today New Sumner is a small rural parish -- member-wise, but still covering a large area -- with
three active churches: Saint John The Evangelist in Esterhazy, St. Augustine’s Church in Saltcoats, and Christ Church in Churchbridge. We hold a Communion Service each summer in St. Asaph’s Church in Llewelyn, while Christ Church in Cotham-Dubuc is rarely used.
As a Parish we have had to deal with many difficulties and uncertainties through the years, resulting from dwindling congregations in all of our towns. For many years those difficulties actually got the various points to work together and survive as a Parish, with and without our own Priest. We have learned to share resources and to draw strength from each member, regardless of which church he or she considers to be “my home church.” We continue to meet regularly as a Parish Council and to come together for a monthly Communion Service led by Rev. Nancy Brunt from Kamsack, thanks to the generous financial support of our neighbouring Whitesand Parish.
However our numbers continue to fall as time takes its toll on our older parishioners and the
dynamics of modern life today draw potential younger participants away from their family church,
both trends of which are not restricted to the Anglican Church.
Despite our future uncertainties, the core group of New Sumner, numbering in the range of 20 to 25 “regulars and semi-regulars” continues to see ourselves as a family of faith, coming together as friends to share our Christian journey together.
Where that journey will take us we don’t know. Costs of maintaining our churches are a constant
source of concern, as it undoubtedly is the situation with all congregations these days. How long will it make sense to keep our doors open when there are just a handful of us regularly going through those doors? The “comfortable pew” has been replaced by the “empty pew” as our biggest concern.
All congregations are small in number but all are still maintaining buildings which need to be heated, provided with utilities, insured, and, if possible, share in the parish’s Fair Share commitment to the Diocese. Pulling no punches, it’s a constant struggle to meet the financial requirements of operating each and all of the New Sumner churches.
Yet despite all of the negatives in its story there continues to be a sense of shared purpose,
determination and faith among the members of New Sumner Parish.
We’re not ready to write an end to the parish’s story. The plot continues to evolve.
Our Story - Bill & Lynda Johnston, Darlene & Glen Fruin, Allan Bolton, and Melissa Hemauer,
Christ Church, Churchbridge
Christ Church is the oldest church in Churchbridge and, in fact, the Anglican Church is responsible for the founding of the community as the first settlers in the district were sent here from England,
financed by the Church Colonization Land Society, a missionary society of the Church of England.
The original church, built in 1902, has been replaced by a very attractive and functional building
built, thanks to a large amount of sweat equity, by congregation members in 1979.
However the ‘glory days’ of Christ Church, when Sunday services were regularly attended by 20 to 30, are sadly in the past due to the passing, through the years, of the founding core of the
congregation. The senior member of our church -- a WWII war bride from Britain who married a
Saskatchewan soldier/farmer -- passed away in late 2022 just short of her 100th birthday.
While its history is part of Christ Church’s present identity, keeping our church alive is not based on the past. The small group which now is Christ Church tries to meet every second Sunday morning for a coffee table lay service in the church led by either Bill or Darlene using the Book of Alternative Services with a sermon provided by one of several web sources we’ve come to appreciate and enjoy.
Together we feel that, regardless of numbers, it’s good, in fact it’s very important, to come together as often as we can to hear and share the good word while reinforcing our faith in God, each in our own individual ways. None of us would ever claim to be “ultra religious” but in our own coffee table level of celebrating and affirming our spiritual beliefs we remind ourselves of God’s love for us and how it all fits together in our daily lives from week to week.
We continue to receive financial and moral support from former Christ Church parishioners who
have either moved away but still feel very much a part of our congregation, or have joined, through marriage, other congregations.
We share our faith with others whenever and wherever we can. Pre-Covid (and hopefully post-Covid now) we hosted a “Sundaes on Sunday” event each summer, cooking hotdogs, plus making ice cream sundaes for any and all community members who came. We tied it in with singing some favourite hymns and a few Bible readings, all outdoors (weather permitting, which it always has).
We remain an active member of the local organization of churches, hosting (again Pre-Covid) a
community Lenten Service and lunch. Recently we have become one of four churches providing
weekly faith services for residents of the town’s Heritage Manor.
In the past we have held reciprocal services with the local Catholic and Lutheran Churches, with
Christ Church members hosting a service and then attending a service at the other church on
We continue to be active within New Sumner Parish hosting, in our turn, a parish communion
service and lunch.
While our numbers may not be great, our dedication to the Anglican Church remains strong.
At 133 years, St. Augustine’s Church in Saltcoats is an enduring connection between an active
past and a challenging future.
Two of its members offered these thoughts as their story.
Sharon Gibler, St. Augustine’s -- I grew up in rural Saskatchewan and attended a rural Lutheran
church. I got married and Saltcoats became my new home. There was no Lutheran church in
Saltcoats but there was St. Augustine’s Anglican Church. I started attending approximately 40 years ago as I felt my young children should be attending a church. Now, my grown children, with children of their own, are, like many of our younger generations -- they are not attending church.
St. Augustine’s has become family. One member who has since passed away knew I had taken
piano lessons as a child and would say ‘plunk out this melody’ and so I did. My husband warned me
I would be the next organist. He was right. I have been the organist for some time now. My fingers
don’t always want to co-operate but I still ‘plunk’ along. I have also become the secretary-treasurer of St. Augustine’s as well as secretary-treasurer of New Sumner Parish.
Some of the things we at St. Augustine’s have or continue to do are:
-- In June (before Covid hit) we would hold an annual Street Party for the community with hotdogs, sundaes and watermelon, plus a fish pond and games for children.
-- At Thanksgiving we make Thank Baskets which are ice cream pails filled with food items, pens,
paper, kleenex packs, small shampoo, etc. for those who are unable to get out of their homes on a regular basis. We have done this for at least the past 40 years and is something we can still do. It has been suggested something similar could be done at Easter.
-- Christmas Time: We organize a “Mitten Tree” to collect mittens, scarves and toques for the
Salvation Army. We also collect non-perishable food items for the Salvation Army.
Following are my thoughts on “Where are our rural churches headed?”
It seems anything “rural” is in a decline: our towns, schools, businesses, hospitals, and more. We
are being forced to go to the city for our needs to be fulfilled. But that doesn’t always work.
New Sumner was part of a larger Deanery system that did not work. The larger city church didn’t
understand the rural church. In a larger city church you can have people who are just Vestry, just
ACW, just Altar Guild, just Catering, and so on. In a rural church everyone is Vestry, ACW (Anglican Church Workers, not just Anglican Church Women), Altar Guild, Catering, and so on.
In a rural church you get to know everyone, not just those in your committee. This makes for a
stronger church base.
Most of us are of the “older generation” and are played out, feeling we can no longer do what we
have been doing. But we need to realize that we do not have to do what we have been doing, we
just need to keep going. You always hear “when two or three are gathered” and that is true for New Sumner. The three churches in the Parish have regular services so “two or three” indeed keep going. As one of our members often says, “We are still here because God has a purpose for us.”
We do, however, ask, where are the younger generation? Why don’t they come to church? Perhaps one day they will find they do need the church, not just the electronics which seem to have taken over all our lives. When that day comes the church needs to be here for them.
Edith Maddaford, St. Augustines -- A lot of prayer, thought and listening has to go into making big
decisions -- especially today when we are tempted from all sides and pulled in different directions.
I want to quote from our Prayer Partner, Jason Haggstrom, who said in his sermon a few Sundays
ago, “Jesus came not to be served, but to serve, and to give his life; a ransom for many.”
This means we need to seek Him out and more than likely it’s going to be messy from here to
eternity. (I think it already is quite messy for those living a Christian life).
“Who we live with here and now will certainly tell us about the later. Where are you going?”
We at St. Augustine’s have a Mission Statement which we try to focus on to the best of our abilities even though we are small and aging. It states: “We at St. Augustine’s Anglican Church, in the power of the Holy Spirit, strive to be a loving and caring community. We desire to reach people of all ages and to encourage a personal relationship with Jesus Christ.”
We need to consider questions like:
Why would we give up or why do we keep going?
How would we keep the spirit alive in others if we were to shut down?
What do we feel is right for us?
and, How can we continue to be good disciples?
When we listen to the answers we receive, are we at peace and comfortable with them or does it
make us “wiggle” a bit and feel uncomfortable?
What does God tell me is “my part” in this decision?
We offer up to God our time, talents and treasures. May His will be done!
Edith later added:
We face many moments when we “have had enough”. Satan aims his attacks on believers at
specific times and points of vulnerability. We sometimes feel like Elijah in 1 Kings, 19: so small, yet God will always be with us.
Yes, we can get discouraged, and sometimes we may feel He gives us more than we can handle, all to grow our faith stronger.
That thought has worked for us.
Sandra Kerr, St. Augustine’s -- Saltcoats has more empty pews than ever but the spirit of our
dedicated Christian forebearers carry on in our midst. The many (possibly 11) Pastors who have
offered their service to New Sumner through the years have each shared different gifts of teaching and offering Christian examples.
Physical changes and upgrades to the building have happened as funds allow.
From Sunday School age through Confirmation and Choir the growth in faith has moved into Bible
Study (carried on for 55 years) to Ecumenical Awareness and Prayer Circles. As faith grew, reading and leading worship developed. Faith-family growth shone in times of congregational needs. Prayers and care support were strong even in times with no Rector. The worship approach, at times, ended up being what those present needed. Occasions of extemporary prayer, “off the pages” sharing, tears, spontaneous singing and healing have helped in feeding the sheep.
Visits by Bishops have given us courage and purpose to continue evaluating community needs and making decisions of what the few can and can’t still do, leading us to new normals.
Only the Lord himself knows the whole story, but we will carry on walking the faith-journey, following Jesus’ way.
St. John The Evangelist, Esterhazy -- No member of the congregation provided his/her personal
“story”, however it’s safe to say it’s a story the Esterhazy congregation shares with the other New
Sumner Parish churches. It has a small remaining, primarily older, congregation which is
challenged with both providing spiritual support for those members while maintaining the physical
requirements of a functioning church. The church features six beautiful stained glass windows.
St. John The Evangelist holds regular early Sunday morning lay services usually led by Jody
MacDonald with music provided by Laura Lomenda. Attendance varies from three or four, upwards to eight or nine.
The church is an active member of the local church council which includes six other churches. St.
John The Evangelist takes its turn hosting church council shared services including providing
spiritual support for the residents of local care facilities. It also hosts the regular monthly meetings of New Sumner Parish Council as well as regular parish Communion services led by Rev. Nancy
St. Asaph’s Church, Llewelyn -- Built in 1904 and 1905 and dedicated in 1906, little has changed
to the wooden church both inside and out. Maintaining it is the dedicated service ministry of Allan
and Lyn (who recently passed away) Bolton whose home is directly adjacent to the rural church
property. Allan keeps the church yard cut and cleared while providing some semblance of security.
The Parish tries to schedule a mid-summer (there’s no power in the building and heat is provided by a cast iron stove) Communion Service which draws some 20 to 30 worshippers many of whom have family ties to St. Asaph’s and/or the local farming district. To prepare the building for the service volunteers from other points spend an afternoon beforehand cleaning it, and, come the day of the service, a bountiful potluck lunch is provided by and for everyone attending.
Keeping St. Asaph’s alive and available if and when it may be needed is very much an on-going
labour of love dedicated not just to the building but for all that the church provides spiritually.