Merry Christmas to Bay of Quinte Conference pastoral charges.
When the Loyalist settlers of Hay Bay prepared to celebrate Christmas in 1791, they were looking forward to giving their community a wonderful Christian present in the new year. By the summer of 1792 they were holding Methodist services in a “meeting house” on the south shore of the bay.
Next year the church will be 225 years old and is in need of extensive restoration. Externally the siding, shutters, window frames and some windows need replacement. A restoration committee has been struck to see this through and to conduct other improvements to the property. Further details will be forthcoming.
The building was expanded significantly in 1835. As the congregation continued to grow, it abandoned the building and sold it to a farmer for use as a granary and storage shed. That might have been the end of the story of the church but there was more.
The church was saved through the persistence of Methodists who thought its heritage should be preserved. The roots of Canadian Methodism were sunk deep in a building constructed by American refugees. Today it is the oldest surviving Methodist building in the country.
The building was re-purchased and rededicated in 1912. With church union in 1925 it became a property of the United Church of Canada. In 1957, the church was officially recognized as an Ontario Historic Site, and later in 1992 received the American Methodist designation. Likewise, the church, land, and its nearby cemetery were designated as a National Historic Site of Canada in 2001.
Although isolated and quiet in winter, the church is a lively place in summer. It is open to visitors every day from mid-May to mid-October, thanks to an enthusiastic group of custodial volunteers. A board of trustees, operating under the auspices of the Bay of Quinte Conference of the United Church, maintains and supervises the church. The history of the church and its original 22 “subscribers” (patrons) is celebrated on the fourth Sunday of August at the annual Pilgrimage Service.
If you have never been to Old Hay Bay Church, take time to visit and explore your Methodist roots. The church is south of Napanee, near Adolphustown. Even if you’ve been here before, come by again. There’s always something new.
For now, may God, who blessed those early settlers, bless you with a very Merry Christmas and peace in the coming year.
The Board of Trustees of Old Hay Bay Church