The Little White Church On Third Street – Part 2

(Not the actual church.)

(Second in a series of reflections on the church of my boyhood)

The small, white Free Methodist church building on Third Street in Estevan, Saskatchewan, was a model of simplicity and utter modesty, if not starkness. It was four walls with a small vestibule at the entrance, little more than a storm porch, just feet from the sidewalk. The building was on a residential lot, framed closely on one side by a residence, and on the other by the larger parsonage yard.

The pulpit, mounted on a platform perhaps six inches high at the opposite end from the entrance, was surrounded on three sides by a spindled wooden altar rail, a carry-over from the communion rail as a hint of Free Methodism’s Anglican roots.

In front of the pulpit was a simple communion table, made of medium-shaded oak. Behind the pulpit against the back wall were three simple pulpit chairs. The middle one may have had arms. The pastor sat in it. The other two were usually vacant.

Well above the pulpit, painted on the wall and enclosed in a faux-banner the shape of a scroll were the words, “Worship the Lord in the beauty of holiness.”

The ceiling was done in decorative squares, which I believe were stamped from tin, a common treatment for ceilings in public buildings back in the early years of the twentieth century. As a small boy, by craning my neck I had counted those squares many times as a diversion when my interest in what was going on flagged.

For the congregation there were theater seats of molded wood. The seats, attached by metal hardware, could be folded up to make movement in and out of the row easier. On the under side of each seat was a simple wire loop to accommodate a man’s hat. These seats had been purchased second-hand from a renovated theater when the church was being built during the first decade of the twentieth century.

On the back of the seats there were racks for the hymn books. Worshipers brought their own Bibles. The little black hymnbooks contained only the words of the hymns and the congregation knew tunes for many of them.

I don’t recall the nature of the floor except that it was all hard surface. But set in the floor in the middle of the centered aisle was a large metal grate to release heat from the coal furnace in the cellar below. On cold winter days the temperature was noticeably higher near the center aisle than near the outside walls.

On each side wall were three windows that curved to a peak at the top. They were frosted so as to let in light but obscure vision. In the summers they could be opened for ventilation.

Worship in this simple structure was correspondingly simple. There were no musical instruments — piano or organ, — no bulletins to outline worship, no prayers offered before or after the offering, no worship teams, not even song leaders. All these additions were associated, in the minds of early leaders, with “formalism” and were believed to hinder the free leadings of the Holy Spirit.

As I recall, it seemed generally understood that attenders defined their faith. When people came to church, those who were believers first knelt for silent prayer. Non-believers seated themselves without kneeling.

Then, as the congregation gathered we all waited in reverent silence for worship to begin. There was no chatting or whispering. To start the service, the minister stood and announced a hymn.

The simplicity was of itself telling even though today it would not likely gather a crowd. Nevertheless, I remember the freighted silence. With nothing else to distract, I recall reading again and again the unfurled banner: “Worship the Lord in the beauty of holiness.” The fewer props we have in worship, the more we are called upon to activate the worship of the heart -– which is true worship.

Looking back through the mists of seven decades I recall the little church on Third Street as a house of God, a house of prayer, where mortals sought the Lord in simple ways. It was a gathering place where the sacred Scriptures were read, where forgiveness was sought and found, and where reconciliations among the saints were sometimes humbly achieved. Whatever eccentricities and foibles surfaced, as they always do where fallen mortals gather, I heard the Gospel in that little meeting house – the message that set my life’s direction for time and eternity.

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4 thoughts on “The Little White Church On Third Street – Part 2

  1. I recently drove by the old Desert Lake Church, north of Verona, the scene of revivals when the man I remember as Uncle Charlie (C.V. Fairbairn, husband to my great-aunt Lena Vannest Fairbairn) preached. We have old family films of him visiting there in the 1950’s. Your description reminded me much of that old building which still stands as testimony to much that happened in the early 1900’s. In the spring, I was anniversary speaker at Trinity United Church in Verona, standing at the pulpit where Uncle Charlie was pastor for a few years prior to his break with what was happening in Methodism in those years ( 1915+ ). Both of those events served to remind me of the goodly heritage which it has been my privilege to share and to enjoy. Thank you for your reflections which causes me to rejoice again!

    • Hello, Chris: Thanks for the memories. I didn’t know you had a blood relationship to C. V. Fairbairn’s wife. I regret to say that the Estevan church is now closed though they have a lot in the new section of the town that they were to move to and build. Maybe yet it will happen. Don Bastian

  2. Grandmother Myrtle Wilkins ( nee Vannest) and Grandfather Harry Wilkins purchased the old Verona FM Church which was replaced in 1955 by the present building. It was turned into a 4-apartment building within about 1500 ft of the present FM Church in Verona. I am grateful for the rock-solid roots in the people and the buildings of Verona FM; scenes you note elicit recollections of similar simple but profound spiritual depth. Again, I am very thankful for such. Thanks for your response — just wanted to fill in a couple more details. Peace to you and your good wife Kay. C.

  3. I have enjoyed reading these posts about the Estevan FM Church. We go through Estevan whenever we go to visit our son and family in Regina, Sask. I’ve been FM all my life and have lived through all the changes in worship, in dress, in social life, etc. I believe the FMC has remained strong through it all and I praise God. Thanks for your wonderful blog.

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