Appreciating the history of St. Andrew’s United

When I was a child in Victoria, before the routine of school occurred for me, the days often melted into each other


When I was a child in Victoria, before the routine of school occurred for me, the days often melted into each other – one day of the week very much like another.

However, while sitting in my James Bay apartment, I could hear the bells ring from downtown at the inner harbour and I knew that it was Sunday.

Bells are a clarion call. They call to people to come – to come to God, to come to each other, to come and celebrate life. They ring at weddings.

They ring out warnings. They ring to announce the end of war.

They are sung about in song and entire choirs are devoted to playing them.

They are emblems of Christmas along with the star which guides us, the fireside which warms us and the tree that gathers us together.

In Lacombe there is one church bell. It rings at 10:15 a.m. on Sundays and it rings to announce a wedding.

But on Nov. 7th at 2:30 p.m. the bell rang for no reason other than this writer got the opportunity to play at being Quasimodo.

The Reverend Ross Smillie, showed me the bell pull. He demonstrated how to get the bell moving and then he stepped aside to let me try.

It’s such a little thing ringing a church bell, and yet it seemed like such a wondrous gift. I had not known that ringing a church bell would be on my bucket list until I was doing it.

The bell rang out, proclaiming nothing important that day other than that it was a church bell, housed in a building where families come to praise God, people take care of each other, prayer shawls are knitted, cookies are baked, children play and a kind reverend counsels his parishioners.

The ringing of the church bell on that day by a writer who fondly remembers the sound of the bell from her childhood telling her it was Sunday, had nothing special to say other than come – come and celebrate life.

St. Andrews United Church was built in 1909 as a Presbyterian church and occupied less than a quarter of the space it does now.

It’s a solid wooden structure with a brick facing. The sanctuary that currently exists was about half the size then and it had a choir loft. It also had the bell which at the time cost the church $120.

Named after Andrew the apostle there is a beautiful stained glass window at the front of the church depicting Andrew at the ascension. Stained glass is plentiful in the sanctuary – much of it in memory of parishioners who were instrumental to the congregation.

One window is a memorial to the veterans that served in the First World War.

Another window depicts a man who was a scout master, a Sunday School teacher and a devoted member of the church.

There is artwork handcrafted by local master wood smith Reverend Jim Henning and throughout the church are reminders of the people who had served the congregation in various ways.

The Presbyterian Church became the United Church when it joined with the Methodists in 1922 locally and nationally in 1925.

At the time of the union, the Methodists had their own church beside the Michener House which was the Methodist manse.

Both places were still used for a while although services were held at St. Andrew’s. In 1957 the hall at the east end of the property was added and in 1960 a three-storey connection between the two buildings was built. It included meeting rooms, a kitchen, classrooms and offices.

The extension to the sanctuary was built in 2001 and at that time an elevator was added to replace the chair lift at the front doors.

The extension is seamless and appears to have always been part of the original structure.

Smillie mentions Nancy Locke, a parishioner who lived to over a 100-yearsold. She told stories of life before the warm kitchen where they would serve food in the basement “And the gravy would drip onto the floor which was so cold that it would freeze the gravy eventually creating stalagmites.”

There is a glass case in the corner of a meeting room that displays memorabilia of Nancy’s life.

The basement which runs the extent of the church is decorated with murals depicting Noah’s Ark and ‘Sunlight City’ to create a welcoming environment for the children.

“In the 50’s there were over 300 kids in the congregation,” said Smillie.

The church is a beautiful historic building, but its real beauty lies in the ways in has been used for over a century.