St. John's History

Source: The First 150 Years: A History of St. John's Anglican Church, Burlington, Ontario by Robert Duke


St. John's - Nelson, the second oldest Anglican Church in Burlington, was founded in 1835 though worship has taken place in the present building since 1839. Though St.  Luke's, Wellington Square was established in 1834, the people who had settled in the Nelson area found that travelling to the more southerly parish over the rough and muddy roads was inconvenient at best. Joseph Ireland, William Spence and John Wettenhall successfully petitioned the Bishop of Quebec (who spent half of each year in Toronto) for a local church. In 1835 the first service was held in an old schoolhouse which was located near the present rectory building. A travelling missionary, Rev. Frederick Mack, rode his horse from St. Luke's to the Guelph Line school. Rev. Henry Hugh O'Neill and Rev. J. Gamble-Geddes, also travelling missionaries, continued to visit the Nelson area from 1836 to 1838.  

In 1838, Nelson had its first resident rector, Rev. Thomas Greene, who urged the congregation to build a church building of their own. The membership had grown beyond the limits of the old schoolhouse, and besides, the lease was about to expire. A building committee was struck and requests for donations made. Three quarters of an acre of land was purchased from Thomas Atkinson, a local farmer, at a cost of one pound twenty-five. It is on this lot that the present day church and cemetery are located.  John Malcolmson, builder, of Hamilton, William Grant and Alexander Brown were contracted to build the church on May 17, 1839, for three hundred and seventy-eight pounds. The first service, on December 7, 1839, was attended by "a devout and numerous congregation", and on June 25, 1840, Thomas Greene recorded that it was full to overflowing.  

While services were held in the Ballykill Bay schoolhouse, the "church" was simply referred to as "the church in the street." It had risen to the title "the Dundas Street Church" when the Stewart Mission donated the first Book of Common Prayer and communion vessels to the fledgling community of worshippers. When the official name of St. John's was given, is unknown, but it was probably at the time the church was consecrated by the Bishop.  It is difficult to follow the history of St. John's since many of its early records are incorporated into those of other nearby parishes. The reason for this is that until 1983, St. John's was a "two-point" parish which depended on the services of rectors from neighboring parishes such as St. Luke's, Wellington Square, Waterdown, Lowville, Nassagawea, as well as St. Christopher's, Burlington. Genealogists and others wishing to obtain records for the early years of St. John's, should consult The William Ready Division of Archives and Research Collections at Mills Memorial Library, McMaster University. Finding aids to the microfilmed archives of St. John's and other churches of the diocese are available at Mills Library at McMaster University and electronically. 

Who Are We

St John’s is part of the world-wide Anglican communion.  We strive to live up to our motto of “Open Doors; Open Hearts; Open Minds” as a loving, joyful, and Christ-centred community, serving God by serving others.  We worship in a sacramental way, meaning that Holy Communion (Eucharist) is the fundamental part of our Sunday gatherings.  Communion is essentially the same word as Community.  We gather together around the Communion Table to share a symbolic meal together that affirms for us that we are all part of the Body of Christ, in remembrance of  Jesus’ command at the Last Supper, “Do this in remembrance of me”. All those who seek a closer relationship with God are invited to participate in this sacrament.  Each of us is called not only to follow the teachings of Jesus, but to be the face of Christ to those we encounter in this time – the 21st century – and this place – Burlington.  Our worship also involves praise to God, by singing hymns.  It involves prayer.  It involves listening to the Holy Scriptures, with a sermon that seeks to make the Scriptures that we have heard relevant to our lives today.

 

The Anglican style of worship has been likened to a three-legged stool, whose legs are Tradition, Scripture, and Reason, all three of which are important.  Tradition doesn’t mean just doing things the way we’ve always done them.  It means our adherence to the worship style of the Early Church, especially by gathering each week for Holy Communion.  We do not preach the idea of “sola scriptura” – meaning Scripture only i.e., taking Scripture literally – because our heritage also demands the use of Reason, to try to understand how we should interpret the Scriptures and what it means to be a Christian in the context of the issues that face us today, as 21st century Canadians.

 

Our church is governed by a group called the “Corporation” consisting of the Rector and two lay persons called Wardens, one of whom is appointed by the Rector and the other elected by the people of the parish.   This group is assisted by a group of volunteers called the Parish Council, which meets once a month.

 

St John the Evangelist

St John the Evangelist is the patron saint of our church.  Together with his brother James, John was one of the first disciples of Jesus.  James and John left their careers as fishermen to follow Jesus – a story told in the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke.  St John is commemorated by the Church each year on May 6th.  Traditionally, this same John was the writer of the fourth of the Gospels, although modern scholars admit that this is most likely legendary rather than historical fact. 

 

Getting Involved

As a member of St John’s, you are not pressured to do anything beyond what you want to do.  If coming to worship with us is sufficient for you, that is just fine.  If, on the other hand, you would like to participate more extensively there are plenty of opportunities to do so.  Some parishioners take special roles in the worship services as Readers, Greeters, Chalice Bearers, or Servers.  Others join activities to do with organization of parish events, such as our Parish Council (governance of the parish), social committee, stewardship committee, and property committee.  Our principal concern is that you feel welcome and can identify St John’s as your spiritual home.

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