Have you ever stepped back into the past or experienced a moment from years ago? Back in November of last year I had the wonderful opportunity to visit the old Trinity United Church in Northeast Harbour, Shelburne County, Nova Scotia, the community where I grew up.
This church was just a short walk from my childhood home. It’s condemned now, but back in the day this building was important. I attended my first funeral there (it was for my foster grandmother). I attended the last wedding held there too. It was lovely; the textured glass windows sparkled with the late afternoon sun, much like they did on my recent visit. I remember seeing the young bride enter the church. Then everyone rose as she began her walk down the isle, her father walking beside her as the Wedding March sounded out from the pump organ.
I also remember a few Christmas concerts. Myself and some local kids, standing on the stage behind the little railing all dressed in our Sunday best only to be covered with props for the nativity production – a robe and a towel from home if you were to be a shepherd, a Wiseman, Mary or Joseph; a sheet for an angel with a halo made from gold or silver garland which sometimes also involved a wire hanger. We’d all gather around some form of a cradle that held somebody’s doll all wrapped up in a baby blanket. This was all usually followed by us kids holding up large bristolboard letters to spell out C-H-R-I-S-T-M-A-S and recite the famous poem. If I close my eyes I can still remember the magic of those concerts and how scared and excited we all were. The fir tree would be standing tall and decorated with all of our handmade decorations. There would be presents underneath for we would have exchanged gifts, each child picking one name from a hat weeks previously.
One of my favourite memories of this church is when I was really small. My mother ran a children’s craft group there on Saturday mornings. I remember running up the big steps into the entrance and through the big door to the room on the east side of the church. They are boarded up now, but I can still picture the sun beaming in through those two big windows of that room. My mother, through a lot of planning, had all kinds of wonderful things for us to do and make, and it was such a sunny happy place.
Because it was my mother who organized the children’s activities, she and I were usually the first ones there on those Saturday mornings and I loved the atmosphere of that old church when it was empty. Walking through it last November, it almost felt the same.
It was sad to see the damage in some areas, but the main part of the church is intact and unchanged. The new-back-then hymnals still rest in their slots behind the pews. I seem to have a distant memory of the day those bright red books arrived in a big brown box. It wasn’t that long before the church doors shut for the last time.
And so my visit to this lovely little country church was bittersweet. So many memories. That’s the thing about a church like this little one. In small communities these buildings were erected by the congregation and were then the centre of all the landmarks of their lives – christenings, weddings, funerals, concerts, choir practices and meetings. It has been there for all the important stuff. And when these churches crumble and die a large piece of that community is left hollow. But the memories are still there.
This church is the reason I can walk into any United Church and remember the melodies of the hymns that are still sung today. There is comfort in that. And for that reason, this Trinity United Church will be remembered by me for a very long time.