Sunday, November 16, 2014

The End Of An Era For A 'Family' Church

The end is drawing close.

Zion United Church, located at 32 Weber Street in Kitchener, Ontario, has been sold and will cease to function as Zion United Church in 2015.

Zion United Church (formerly Zion Evangelical Church), 32 Weber Street, Kitchener, Ontario (photo by Ian Hadden, 2014)

The Evangelical Association was basically a German Methodist church that eventually merged with the United Church of Canada. Sadly, the decline in the number of parishioners and attendance, down to 25% of what it was forty years ago, means that the church's operating costs are much higher than it's revenue. So, the church has been sold. Fortunately it's exterior is protected under the Ontario Heritage Act.

For my wife's Wagner ancestors, this church played a central role in their lives dating back more than 150 years. 

Third great grandfather Jacob Hailer was instrumental in helping to establish a church for what was then the Evangelical Association. He allowed his workshop to be used as the first church Sunday School. He also permitted the traveling Evangelical Association ministers to stay in his home when they visited the then village of Berlin, Canada West.

One of those itinerant ministers, Jacob Wagner married Jacob's eldest daughter Margaret in 1849. Their eldest son, Louis Henry Wagner, my wife's great grandfather, would follow in his father's foot steps, become a minister, and eventually pastor of the Zion Evangelical Church.

Margaret's sister, Catherine married Jacob's best friend Louis Breithaupt in 1853 and, as their family grew to prominence in the growing community of Berlin, they too centered their lives around Zion Evangelical Church.

When Margaret died in 1918 (shortly after Berlin was re-named as Kitchener), her son Louis as church pastor used the church's stationery to pen a poem in tribute to his mother.

Zion Evangelical Church stationery used by Rev. Louis Henry Wagner to author a tribute poem to his mother Margaret Hailer Wagner Bean on her death in 1918. (Note that the church address at the time was 10 Weber Street (now 32 Weber Street) and that the central steeple of the church is now missing)

The tribute poem for Margaret Hailer Wagner Bean of Rev. Louis Henry Wagner reads as follows:

Memories of Our Mother

Our Mother's gone.
The fields, from which she gleaned
The fallen stock of golden grain
Have long since given their ripened store
To other hands. The orchard, bright in bloom,
And promise of a full supply,
Will yield its burdened bough to others
Will these too be as generous with their gifts
As she was want to be?
Or withholding much, impoverish but themselves?
Her home, where, through these many years
Of saddened widowhood,
She reigned serenely well,
--- Her word was law,
Respected every wish ---
That home, of daughters well brought up,
And sons much loved and honored true,
Will miss the mother's smile.
Her gentle words of caution and of love
Will n'er be heard again.
Her voice is gone. Her hand,
So warm to welcome home,Will never give its kindly hold
To those she loved so well.

The stranger, made a noble friend,
Will miss her cordial help.
Her church has long since ceased
To see her in her wanted place;
But when the ring of bell will call to worship here,
Her memory still continues fresh and sweet
And long to come, when we
And here this house of God have passed away,
She still will linger on in hallowed thought.

Our Mother's gone? No. Never.
Her disembodied spirit may linger near,
And still its good unfold.
Her smiles, her words, her loving deeds
Will never pass away.
She lives. Though to its place
We lay her washed frame, she lives.
Our Mother lives, and loves us still.
And when this sad requiem is o'er,
And each his weary way
To distant home we break,
The memory of our mother dear will linger.
Her soothing hand will still be laid on throbbing brow.
Her smile will cheer the lonely heart.