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Rural United Churches amalgamating due to low attendance

Elora United Church, Bethany United Church and Alma United Church are merging into Hope Springs United Church to be more sustainable moving forward

ELORA – Declining numbers at local United Churches in the Centre Wellington area has made sustaining separate congregations unviable, leading to the decision to amalgamate three churches into one new entity. 

Elora United Church, rural Centre Wellington’s Bethany United Church and Alma United Church will officially merge and become Hope Springs United Church as of Nov. 1. 

The new congregation will meet at Elora United Church and the other two buildings are now up for sale.

Rev. Greg Smith-Young, Elora and Bethany' minister since 2004, who will continue this role with Hope Springs, said in an interview a lot has changed since these congregations were founded in the 1830s and 1840s during the early days of European settlement in the area. 

“I know from the Bethany congregation when it started out there was a vibrant community in that area, the small little hamlet of Ponsonby was much bigger than it is now for instance,” Smith-Young said. 

“Over time, as patterns have changed, having so many congregations in these different settings has become more and more difficult to sustain, especially for a place like Bethany where the local community it has been a part of doesn’t really exist anymore.”

He also said the changing role of religion and secularization of society as playing a role in this. Smith-Young said he’s noted declining participation in church congregations. 

For example, while his family participated in church congregations when he was young, a lot of his friends’ families didn’t and he’s seen this continue with his own children and their friends. Meanwhile, when his own parents were young just about everyone belonged to a church. 

“People are still religious, they’re spiritual but the sense of everyone belonging to a church has certainly declined and the way people think about religious life has changed and is much more personal and often individualistic,” Smith-Young said. 

This is something Christine Grose, chair of both Alma UC board and the amalgamation board, has seen at her own church. 

Grose has been going to Alma UC for 45 years, having married into it with a husband who has attended his whole life. 

“Our membership roll is 61 but if you’re asking how many people might come out on a typical Sunday, you’re talking maybe 10, 12?” Grose said. 

“We found that we’re not able to fulfill our mission based on numbers of people that are now attending church, so our resources have started to dwindle.” 

Therefore, Grose and Smith-Young said amalgamating means they’ll be stronger and more sustainable together. 

Although Alma UC’s building is historic, built in 1875, that’s not what Grose said she’ll miss about it. 

“What will be hard is I know that not everyone, not all the people, will be coming to Hope Springs UC, they’ll be making their own individual decisions as to where they feel that their faith needs will be best met,” Grose said, adding she will still see these people at other Alma community events and places. 

Elora UC will have its final service on Sunday at 11 a.m. while Alma and Bethany UC will hold their closing services the following Sunday Oct. 16 at 9:30 a.m. and 10:30 a.m. respectively.

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Keegan Kozolanka

About the Author: Keegan Kozolanka

Keegan Kozolanka is a general assignment reporter for EloraFergusToday, covering Wellington County. Keegan has been working with Village Media for more than two years and helped launch EloraFergusToday in 2021.
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