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Celebrating 150 Years of St. Andrew’s, Aurora
In November, when St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Church in Aurora, Ont., celebrated its 150th anniversary, Aurora Town Council pre- sented the church with a plaque in honour of the occasion. Pictured left to right: Aurora Councillor Rachel Gilliland, St. Andrew’s Clerk of Session Adele Samuel, Pastor Soong Huh, Aurora Mayor Tom Mrakas, Knox College professor Stuart Macdonald, Aurora Councillor Sandra Humfryes and Robert Revington.
  By Robert Revington, St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Church in Aurora, Ont.
One evening more than half a century ago, the people of St. Andrew’s Pres- byterian Church in Aurora, Ont., saw a scandalous sight. In fact, a long- time member recalled that some members of the church “almost passed out” in horror when they saw it. And what caused the uproar?
It was this: the bagpiper at the church’s Robbie Burns Night was wearing a kilt...but it had an Irish pattern. Apparently, this was truly shocking for a room filled with Scot- tish people!
That anecdote was one of many that I came upon while researching our church’s anniversary museum exhibit.
In November 2021, St. Andrew’s celebrated its 150th anniversary. One of the most exciting parts of prepar- ing for the anniversary celebration was the opportunity to work on a vir- tual museum exhibit that looked back
on the church’s history. We worked alongside staff from the Town of Aurora Museum & Archives, and they did an outstanding job in put- ting together the exhibit web page. It can be found at standrewspresbyterianchurchintro. Let me share some highlights.
From the research that I did on the exhibit, the stories of local colour particularly stand out. One of my fa- vourite discoveries was learning how the church paid for its heat during the cold winters of the 1930s. It was the time of the Great Depression, the church was in debt and money was scarce. They needed an additional source of fundraising to pay the $12 needed for a ton of coal. How did they solve the problem?
In her memoir, long-time church member Reta Rank explained that they decided to hold crokinole tour- naments—“12 tables at 25 cents per person”—in order to cover the heat- ing costs. They played crokinole be- cause, being the good Presbyterians
they were, euchre tournaments were considered too sinful!
The old church building (1873– 1962) was comparatively spartan. Reta recalled that in the old days, “[T]here was no water in the church. It had to be carried in from the tap almost at the street. We filled wash
boilers [and] heated them on an old cook stove to wash the dishes.” One time, a visiting choir from Parkdale all had to walk to a nearby house be- cause the church didn’t have its own washrooms!
Another highlight was discovering the church’s amusingly passive-ag- gressive newspaper advertisement meant to raise money for the new building in the 1960s. The ad stated that they implored local Presbyteri- ans “to fulfill their obligations to their church, and thus to discharge their conscience in obedience to the faith they have professed. As the scripture states, faith without works is dead... We therefore, through this advertise- ment, give the call of the parish to those of our obedience with whom previously we have not been in touch that they may respond as their con- science, if a true conscience, may direct.”
In addition, the women of the church held a special “carpet party” to pay for a carpet to cover the mid- dle of the sanctuary. Visitors were lined up down the block and were served tea and dinner at a church member’s house. The women of the church could not accept a new church building without a carpet!
Before the new building opened in 1962, their exhausted minister, the Rev. Louis Fowler, was photographed sleeping in a pew. Fowler would later joke: “In the history of Christianity, I defy you to find a single example
where the minister was the first to go to sleep in his own pew.” Louis added: “Quite a few have gone to sleep since.”
One June day, church mem- bers prayed that their strawberry tea would have good weather, but it poured rain all morning. The rain temporarily stopped, but the sky looked bleak. Reta Rank recalled that “just at that time, the Rev. John Locke, the United Church minister, and a former Presbyterian, Mr. Ferris, came by.” The Rev. Locke cheekily told the Presbyterians that if they had gone United, they wouldn’t have been rained on. Reta replied: “You haven’t got enough faith. Come back at 3 p.m. The sun will be out, and we will serve you strawberries on the lawn.” And that was exactly what happened!
One of the joys of preparing this exhibit was my correspondence with the daughters of former St. Andrew’s minister, the Rev. Homer McAvoy. Homer was the church’s minister from 1967 to 1975, and his daugh- ters proudly shared a variety of sto- ries and photos from that time.
Our exhibit has many other humor- ous stories. Above all, I would em- phasize to any Presbyterian church out there—especially one with a ma- jor anniversary coming up—to con- sider looking into your church’s past. Dig into your archives, seek out old photos, and reach out to members past and present. You never know what you might find!
 The homepage for the St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Church, Aurora, virtual museum exhibit, showing pictures of the old Mechanics Hall (where the church met before the original building was built), a painting of the old church building and a photo of the current church building on the same site. The virtual exhibit can be found at PHOTO CREDIT: AURORA MUSEUM & ARCHIVES

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