SOUTHMINSTER - THEN & NOW
Originating from the consolidation of the first Methodist and Presbyterian congregations formed in this area more than a century and a half ago, Southminster has celebrated 82 years of continuous urban ministry serving the Old Ottawa South community at its present landmark site overlooking the Rideau Canal.
The church building as it exists today was consecrated in 1932 and bears witness to the thousands of people who have entered its doors during the Depression years, the Second World War, the post-war boom and succeeding decades that mark the social, political, cultural and economic changes of our city, country, and world.
Southminster traces its beginnings to 1869 with services in Billings Bridge Temperance Hall conducted by Rev. Alexander Spence of St. Andrew's and other Ottawa-area churches until 1885 when they welcomed their own first minister, Rev. J. D. Morris. Billings Bridge Methodist congregation was formed about 1875 as part of Long Island Circuit. Soon after this, Billings Bridge Methodist Mission was organized.
Ottawa South Methodist Church on Aylmer Avenue which was torn down in 1930 to allow Southminster United church to be built on the same site.
Parishoners leaving the building following a Sunday service in 1935. (Courtesy, City of Ottawa Archives)
In the 1880s, this mission extended from Hawthorne to Britannia and included as many as nine small congregations. Later, the two Billings Bridge congregations moved: Ottawa South Methodist Church was built on Bank and Aylmer in 1908-09 and Calvin Presbyterian was built on Sunnyside Avenue in 1914. With the formation of the United Church of Canada in 1925, these churches became United Church congregations and in 1931, the two congregations amalgamated, demolished Ottawa South (formerly Methodist) and built Southminster on the present site at Bank and Aylmer (dedicated in January 1932). Calvin United Church was subsequently sold to the Roman Catholic diocese.
Outreach activities were strengthened in the post-war years with the addition of Memorial Hall (1955), providing offices and rooms for Christian education and church activities. The Memorial Centennial Carillon was installed in 1966, and the Walter LeGrow Memorial Library was opened in 1990.
Southminster has consistently expanded its community outreach through such local collaborations as the Centretown Churches Social Action Committee (CCSAC) which started in 1967. In 1997, it helped establish “Out of the Cold Suppers” under the banner Centre 7. Since then, these suppers have run weekly on Saturdays from November to March, serving up to 1300 meals in a single season!
Southminster also recognized the increasing need to provide the handicapped with better access to the church and its facilities. From 1990 to 2002, an exterior ramp was constructed, a wheelchair-accessible washroom was built, and an elevator installed as our Millennium project.
Music has always played an important role in the life of Southminster. Installed in 1932, our heritage Cassavant Frères organ, with more than 2000 pipes, proudly reverberates with sound on Sundays and at other times in celebrations, concerts and special activities throughout the year. In July 2009, the chancel area was reconstructed to accommodate more fully our ministries of music, outreach, and faith development. Musical events are becoming an increasingly visible link between Southminster and our neighbours and community. In the winter and spring of 2013 “Doors Open for Music at Southminster,” a series of weekly Wednesday noon-time concerts was launched, and continues to run, with great success.
Thanksgiving Sunday Celebration. (photo: Anne Whitehurst)
Southminster United Church is a multi-generational Christian faith community in Old Ottawa South. We embrace a vision of “right relationship” in our dealing with one another, with community and with the world. We celebrate our hospitality through an open and intentional welcome and through our care for one another and community. We open opportunities for faith exploration that speak to diverse needs and interests and time availabilities.
We are rooted in the United Church of Canada with an abundance of members who are committed to embracing and promoting values of inclusion and peace, social justice, global awareness and environmental stewardship. We have an active LNGO (Outreach) committee to engage the congregation to these ends. Our community is more interested in conversations and dialogue than in creeds or dogmas. We are committed to engaging in faith conversations and encouraging one another to explore faith together.
We see our mission as threefold: as a Worshipping Community, an Arts Hub and a Community Gathering space. As such, we strive to deepen our relationship with God spiritually and theologically. Our mission has led to an active Spiritual Practices Group, a Book Club, and small House Church meetings. We welcome approximately 150 people weekly to Doors Open for Music as well as hosting other concerts and recitals. Our building is well used, with approximately 70,000 visits a year from diverse groups.
We officially became an affirming ministry in May 2022, and continue to celebrate our hospitality through an open invitation to all to explore their Christian faith in diverse ways.
Three books have been written on the history of Southminster United Church. Two of these are available in pdf format below.
The History of Southminster United Church 1860-1975 by Ralph Millett. Full book here.
The Church Is Wherever God's People Are Gathered, a Southminster history compiled by the congregation in 1992. Full book here.
Built on the Rock: Southminster United Church, Its People and Its Neighbours: A Contextual History by Katharine Currie,
published in 2006. This book is available from the church office, on loan, or for purchase ($15).
Below is an excerpt from the introduction to Built on the Rock:
Southminster is a medium-sized church in a small area of a medium-sized city in North America. The city is the capital of a nation of fairly recent immigrants except for its First People. The area of Old Ottawa South, with its neighbour, Carleton University, is beginning to reflect the international aspect of Canada but it retains a unified appearance, as new structures share the streets with historic landmarks, such as Southminster. The architect who designed our church created a building of simple lines, lightened by the lancet arches of doors and windows. It speaks to us of harmony.
The history of Southminster takes place within a changing social context. Themes of community, neighbourhood, Canadian and world history make up the framework of my book, and, within this framework, the challenges of environment, science and peacebuilding test the intellectual, moral and spiritual fiber of Southminster’s congregation.
I have tried to describe what changed and what endured in the spiritual life of Southminster and its neighbours, during two hundred years of unprecedented scientific and secular revolutions. The work is an open-ended experiment.
Who Needs Church? Documentary
Who Needs Church? is a documentary film that tells the story of Southminster United Church’s struggle to keep its doors open despite a dwindling congregation, and addresses the question, “is the church a necessary part of our modern lives and community?".