CHESTERVILLE — The local evangelical church that brewed a new direction by moving to Chesterville and opening a coffee shop turned 25 years old this weekend.
Twenty-fifth anniversary celebrations at The Gathering House kicked off Saturday continued through the congregation’s regular Sunday morning worship service (March 24) in the “Fulton Block” — purchased in 2010 by the community-minded group that previously worshipped in Winchester.
“We’re looking forward to another 25 years of serving God right here in the middle of Chesterville,” said the church’s new pastor, Brian Barr, officially installed into his role last week after serving as interim minister for the last few months.
“At a weaker moment in congregation’s life, they voted to bring me on as pastor,” he quipped.
The Gathering House is part of the Associated Gospel Churches of Canada, and Barr read aloud from a congratulatory letter written by that body’s president, Rev. Bill Allen: “If God has been faithful in the past, he will also be faithful to you as you move forward in faith, trusting him in all areas. My prayer for you is that you will be bold and courageous as you continue to stand firm upon his word, and that your light continues to shine brightly as living testimony to the power of the gospel.”
“I wanted to make sure I got back down here today to say congratulations,” said local federal election candidate Eric Duncan, former mayor of North Dundas, also addressing the group on Saturday. Recalling how his very first Mayor’s Breakfast was held at the church facility, “we were welcomed every time we had a community event or an idea,” he added. “The congregation here … everybody here … does a wonderful job, not just for one hour on Sunday morning, but many days per week … On behalf of the community, congratulations, but most importantly, thank you for the work you do and will continue to do in the coming years.”
When they moved to Chesterville from Winchester in 2010, the congregation consciously adopted a mission-based model of operations. That means running their facility as a community hub — a “Gathering House” — welcoming to all sorts of community events and people (as noted by Duncan). A prime example of the approach is the church’s popular café that runs every day, complete with chalkboard menu behind a bar-like counter with an espresso machine and a collection of tables and chairs leading up to a quaint fireplace.
Though not a member of the congregation, “I come here twice a day,” observed Chesterville resident and fan of the coffee, Eldon York. “They do a lot of good in this community.”
The former minister who was at the helm when the flock moved to Chesterville, Tim Edwards, reminisced in a video address about the process that saw the group leave Winchester and finally acquire their own building — to embark on “an entirely new avenue of ministry.”
The congregation grew out of a small group of local families that initially travelled to attend the then-new Trinity Bible Church of Osgoode — planted by the Metropolitan Bible Church of Ottawa. Officially established as Discovery Bible Fellowship on Palm Sunday 1994, they met in the gymnasium at Winchester Public School for 15 years. Along the way, the growing congregation acquired land just outside that town for a planned new church building — even going so far as to buy a pre-fabricated steel structure they hoped to erect on site.
But it was not to be.
Edwards recounted how they were called by God to take the “revolutionary” step of switching villages, exchanging “the prospect of a new church at the edge of town to an old building in the heart of town. From an ‘attractional’ model of ministry to a ‘missional’ model, from a Bible Fellowship to a Gathering House.”
He also highlighted their integration into the community around them —helping to host events like Art on the Waterfront as well as their popular summer Bible camp.
Abandoning one vision for a new one “took a lot of courage,” Edwards said of their decision to “step forward in faith” in 2010. “We really had no idea what was to come.”
A member of the congregation told NVN that he sees the congregation today “as a family. It is a family.”
“You don’t want to be telling anyone in here that you lack for anything,” the man said, smiling, “because it won’t be long before you’ve been helped.”
Approximately 100 regulars turn out on Sundays at the 2 Water Street address, sitting at tables in the large, open space that serves as the sanctuary on the first day of the week.
As for that Winchester plot of land, the Gathering House congregation sold it to local Anglicans who constructed their new, amalgamated church, St. Clare’s, on the site. A local farmer bought and repurposed the evangelicals’ steel building into a machine shed.
“All the doors kept getting slammed and brought us here,” said the Gathering House’s office administrator, Christine VanDenBroek, reflecting on her own quarter-century association with the congregation, dating back to her time in youth group.
“We looked at this building more than once. Our thought was like, ‘Winchester, Winchester!’ and he [God], was like: No, Chesterville!”
“I’m thankful God’s been faithful and merciful through the years that we’ve been able to transition to … Chesterville,” said another longtime parishioner, Peter Leyenaar
The congregation’s first minister noted that Chesterville actually served as an early meeting place for some of the original founders, 25-plus years ago.
“Did you realize some of the early Bible studies were in Chesterville?” remembered Pastor Archie Robertson during a special Sunday address in which he remembered those sessions at the Nelson LaPrade Centre. “We had a potluck there, and there were seniors there, and right from the beginning there was a heart to reach out,” he exclaimed.
“So this brings us back to where we’re supposed to be, in Chesterville!”