St. Andrews Presbyterian Church 1826-2016

The first Presbyterian church in Ancaster was founded in 1826 by the Rev. George Sheed. Prior to this the Presbyterians of Ancaster shared a church building with the Anglicans on the site of today’s St. John’s Church. Sheed came to Upper Canada from Scotland and ministered to Presbyterians in Ancaster, West Flamborough, and Dundas. He made his home at what is now the Hermitage before dying suddenly in 1832. A frame church building on the site of today’s St. Andrew’s was still under construction and a temporary floor was laid for Rev. Sheed’s funeral service. His was the first burial in the cemetery, marked by a large altar style tombstone.

Sheed was succeed in 1834 by a man who became one of the leading Presbyterian ministers in Canada, the Rev. Mark Young Stark. Stark served the Presbyterian churches in Ancaster and in Dundas. Both took the name St. Andrew’s from the patron saint of Scotland. In 1844 the Presbyterian Church of Canada in connection with the Church of Scotland was split by a dispute originating back in the home country. Along with many others, Rev. Stark chose to sever his connection to Church of Scotland and form a new Free Church. A minority of members in both the Ancaster and Dundas churches followed Stark out of the Church of Scotland, leading to the formation of separate Free Church congregations in both communities.

Knox Church, Stark’s congregation in Dundas, thrived and became much larger than the Church of Scotland congregation there. The opposite was true for the Free Church in Ancaster, which remained small and struggled until 1854 when Rev. Stark was relieved of his congregation in Ancaster in order to focus on Knox Dundas. Things were only a little better for the Church of Scotland congregation in Ancaster. They were able to call a minister until 1858, but after that they had to rely on oversight and occasional supply from the ministers of the larger churches down in Hamilton and Dundas.

Meanwhile in 1855, another group of Presbyterians formed a church in Ancaster Village. That year the Rev. John Lees was called to the United Presbyterian churches in Ancaster West (Alberton) and Ancaster East (Carluke). The United Presbyterians traced their roots to an earlier split in the Church of Scotland in 1732. Rev. Lees chose to lead services of worship for the small group of United Presbyterians in Ancaster Village, who then became a formal congregation.

With a few years, this United Presbyterian congregation bought what was known as the “Old Free Church.” It seems to have absorbed the members of the Free Church congregation in the Village before 1861, when the Free Church and United Presbyterians merged to form the Canada Presbyterian Church. This new denomination was more evangelical and progressive than the established Church of Scotland Presbyterians and grew rapidly throughout Canada.
In 1872 the Canada Presbyterian congregation in Ancaster Village bought the St. Andrew’s building and property from the Church of Scotland congregation. The two congregations merged sometime between this date and 1875 when all Canadian Presbyterians came together to form the Presbyterian Church in Canada. The new merged congregation kept the name St. Andrew’s.

Today’s St. Andrew’s is the coming together of three different Presbyterian churches founded by three visionary ministers: George Sheed, Mark Young Stark and John Lees.

Work on the stone church building that stands on the site today was begun sometime in 1873 and probably completed in 1875. The original wooden building was moved to make way for construction in 1874 and was used as a cigar factory until 1879 when it burned down. The bell that was cast in 1835 for the old church was installed in the spire of the new building.

The Canada Presbyterian Church in Ancaster Village shared its minister with the Presbyterian churches in Alberton and Carluke until 1870 when it was partnered with Barton Stone Church. In 1876 St. Andrew’s Ancaster was reunited with Alberton Church. Except for a few years in the 1890’s, the two churches shared ministry together until 1994.

Following its decline from being one of the foremost communities in Upper Canada following the War of 1812, Ancaster continued as a sleepy village until the housing boom that followed World War II. With the construction of new subdivisions and plans for what is now Highway 403, a decision was made to expand the church facilities to make room for growth. In 1961 a new addition was completed containing a gym, kitchen, offices and a parlour. The basement of the 1875 building was also renovated with the construction of new Sunday School rooms.

Change would also come to the church sanctuary with the addition of a large Celtic cross at the front in 1967, and the steady addition of stained glass windows over several decades. 1990 saw the last major renovation of the church building when the sanctuary was completely redesigned. The most significant change was the removal of the original suspended plaster ceiling (that had subsequently been covered with acoustic tiles in the 1960s) which revealed the wooden trusses and roof above.

By 1994, continued growth in the surrounding community and within the church led St. Andrew’s to become a self-sustaining congregation with its own minister for this first time in its history. The late 1990’s and first decade of the 2000’s also saw the development of a praise band and the introduction of more contemporary elements to the worship service.

Today, with our Opening Doors Campaign, St. Andrew’s is working to reach out more effectively to the ever-changing communities of Ancaster and greater Hamilton. We seek the renewal of God’s Spirit was we continue “to gather as God’s People, to worship, to grow in faith, in love, and to reach out to the world as Disciples of Christ.”