A historic country church, and a commitment to the future

Roofing and painting at Hazzards Church

Hazzards Corners Church on a blazing-hot day this past week with the new shingles having been installed on the west side of its roof (and roofers working away at the east side, which you can’t see in my photo), and the louvers on the steeple being painted. How wonderful to see this major project being done, just in time for the annual summer service there!

Every year around this time I like to alert – and invite – you readers to a happy event that takes place just up the road from Queensborough: the annual summer service at historic Hazzards Corners Church. This year is no different – or … wait. Actually, it is different.

Because this post (unlike the ones I’ve done here and here and here, the last of which rather incidentally features a pretty great recording of the Carter Family singing Church in the Wildwood) is not just to inform you of the event this coming Sunday (Aug. 21, 2016). It’s more to pay tribute to a group of community volunteers who are doing an outstanding job of preserving that lovely little country church so that it may be enjoyed by you and me at events like the summer service.

Hazzards Church sign 2

Built as a Methodist church in the pioneer days of 1857, Hazzards has been a local landmark ever since. Its graceful architecture even earned it a place in a coffee-table book called Rural Ontario that was published in 1969 by the University of Toronto Press. In it, the authors (historian Verschoyle Benson Blake and photographer Ralph Greenhill) write: “The builder has managed with very simple means to produce a building of great charm, slightly suggesting the Gothic style, but with a doorway that is purely Neo-classic … The church tower proportions are, for some reason, particularly satisfying … The whole effect seems reminiscent of New England, though it is hard to say why this is so.”

Pretty much everything you would ever want to know about the history of Hazzards Church is contained in a book called Pilgrimage of Faith. It’s a history of all the churches in Madoc and Madoc Township (and a few adjacent areas, including Queensborough, which is in Elzevir Township) that was published in 1974. I treasure my own copy, inscribed by the authors – three amazing women, now all deceased, whom I remember with fondness and admiration:

Title page and dedication, Pilgrimage of Faith

Perhaps I should also note that in my father, The Rev. Wendell Sedgwick, was the minister at Hazzards Corners Church – which became part of the United Church of Canada when the national church was formed in 1925 – during my childhood here at the Manse. He wrote the introduction to Pilgrimage of Faith:

Introduction to Pilgrimage of Faith

The authors provide all kinds of interesting information about the founding of Hazzards Church, and stories about church life through the years. Re-reading it this evening, I was struck by how many of the names of the church founders way back in the 19th century are still very much associated with the local area today – names like Ketcheson, Harris, Burnside, Moorcroft, Broad, Blair, Love, Kincaid and McCoy.

Hazzards Church by Vera Burnside

A sketch of Hazzards Church by the late Vera Burnside (once my Sunday School teacher, and a truly great woman – and you’ll note her family name, which harks back to the church’s founders) showing the old drive shed for the horses and buggies that was still beside the church in my youth. If you’re lucky, you’ll be able to buy note cards featuring this drawing at Sunday’s service.

And I loved some of the tidbits about the church building. Like: that the division down the middle of the long pews in the centre aisle was to separate the men and the women (the authors speculate that this may have been a Quaker influence carried over to the Methodists).

Hazzards Church interior

The interior of Hazzards Church, showing the old pews (not terribly comfortable, I can tell you from childhood experience) and many original finishes.

And that the original pews (which are still there) show “the mark of the adze used in smoothing the wood” when they were built.

And that “the pulpit, plain and unadorned, has had the lectern raised to accommodate taller ministers in more recent years” – my dad was quite tall, as was the minister who immediately preceded him, The Rev. George Ambury.

Hazzards Church facing rear

The clock on the back wall of the church, impossible for the minister in the pulpit not to see. Better not let those sermons run on too long…

And also that the clock on the back wall – facing the minister dead-on as he stood in the pulpit – was a gift from a female parishioner “wishing to be helpful to the minister, who possibly was allowing his sermon to be a bit over long.”

There is also a nicely written bit about the old windows. Until 1953, when most of them were replaced, we read, they were

“20-pane double-hung sashes (that is, forty small panes in each window, which were well blessed by the women each time cleaning day came!)”

Here is one of those old 40-pane windows still in place at the front of the church:

Window, Hazzards Church

The book’s section on the windows also points out that the glass was clear (rather than colourfully stained, as in most churches), and goes on to quote a poem that I did not know before tonight:

No stained-glass windows hide the world from view,
And it is well. The world is lovely there,
Beyond clear panes, where branch-scrolled skies look through,
And fields and hills, in morning hours of prayer.

Thanks to the internet I discovered that the lines are from a poem called A Country Church, and that the poet is Violet Alleyn Storey. Oddly, and sadly, I could discover little about Violet Alleyn Storey, save that she must once have been a poet of some renown because several of her pieces were published in Harper’s magazine in the 1920s. But leaving that aside, the words and images also delighted me because they reminded me of something my friend Doris – whose family roots in the Hazzards area run very, very deep, and whom I hope to see at this Sunday’s service – said in a recent comment here at Meanwhile, at the Manse. I did a post that mentioned the lovely springtime blossoms on the trees in the vicinity of the old church, and wondered what those trees were. As she shared the knowledge that they are Black Locusts, Doris said: “I remember looking at them through the window [of the church] when I should have been listening to the sermon.” Just like Violet Alleyn Storey said: “The world is lovely there/Beyond clear panes.”

Okay, so that’s a lot about the history (and the interior) of Hazzards Corners Church, and the only other thing I’ll say on that front is that copies of Pilgrimage of Faith will be on sale before and after the Aug. 21 service. Pick one up and you’ll not only get to enjoy this history for yourself, but you’ll be supporting the work of the people who keep Hazzards Corners Church maintained and preserved and ready to welcome people like you and me for special services a couple of times a year. (You can read a bit about the annual Christmas candlelight service, which always takes place the evening of Dec. 23, here.)

And that’s a good segue into what I want to tell you about.

Hazzards Corners Church was closed as a United Church of Canada place of worship in 1967. The decision was made by the central church, not locally; it came at a time when many small country churches were being closed and consolidated as the number of Canadians attending church regularly began to show a major decline. It was a very painful thing for people to see the church that they had attended all their lives, that their parents and grandparents had attended all their lives, shut down. Those were sad times in many country churches and pastoral charges.

Often when a church is closed, it is sold into private hands. Occasionally buyers turn the historic buildings into something attractive – a funky house or an interesting business operation. But you’ve all seen the sad sight of pretty old churches that have become run-down places – sometimes lived in, sometimes boarded up and empty – that are more an eyesore than anything else. I think of the former Eldorado United Church, where my dad was also the minister after Hazzards closed. It’s now in private hands and sits looking forlorn, weedy and semi-decrepit:

Former Eldorado United Church

And sometimes when churches are closed they are just torn down. Not very far from Hazzards Corners there was, until 1962, a  small church at the intersection of Hart’s and Tannery roads, Hart’s United Church. When you drive by there today, all you see is a plaque marking the spot (and thank goodness for the community supporters who had it erected):

Hart's United Church plaque

When you look at the site as a whole, however, it’s pretty hard to imagine a church there. Nature has taken it back, as nature always does:

Site of Hart's United Church

Here’s another place, right in the centre of Queensborough, where once a church stood, though you’d be hard-pressed to guess it now:

Stairs to former Queensborough Methodist Church

And here’s what that building, the Queensborough Methodist Church, looked like:

Queensborough Methodist Church, 1912

Are our communities better places for historic former churches being torn down, or neglected until they’re run down? I think not.

Hazzards Church is one fantastic exception to this too-frequent fate. Somehow or other, the Hazzards Corners community managed to get the central United Church to keep its hands off the property. Their church may have been closed, but by God those people weren’t going to see it disappear. And ever since, thanks to dedication and a lot of hard work, and financial support from the community at large at those twice-yearly services (and through other gifts, such as in-memoriam donations), Hazzards has kept on keeping on. One recent project was a new metal sign over the adjacent cemetery, made by Queensborough metalsmith (metal wizard is more like it) Jos Pronk of Pronk Canada Inc.:

Sign over Hazzards Cemetery

At last year’s summer service, Grant Ketcheson, whose family back in the day was among the founders of Hazzards Church and whose family today continues to work very hard to preserve it, told the gathering before the offering was taken up that the church was going to need some major work very soon.

Grant speaks to the bus tour

Grant Ketcheson, a tireless volunteer at Hazzards Corners Church, talks about the building’s history to an audience of people on a bus tour organized by the Hastings County Historical Society this past June.

Grant has a winning and humorous way with words, and in the nicest possible way he was telling us to dig deep into our pockets if we want to continue to enjoy events like the summer service and the Christmas service, and to see this landmark building maintained. And I’m sure many, probably most, of the people in those hand-hewn pews did dig deep.

But a new roof and exterior painting of an old building are expensive propositions. And so over the past year, the Hazzards Church volunteers did a thing that many community groups would like to do but that is hard to do well and successfully: they applied for a grant. And they got it! From the Belleville-based John M. and Bernice Parrott Foundation, a fund that has helped so many good causes in Hastings and Prince Edward counties (and probably beyond) over the years. “Our prayers have been answered!” the group reported on the Hazzard’s Church Facebook page back in April of this year.

And now the work is taking place. This past week, in heat and humidity that almost defied description – sweltering, to put it mildly – a crew was busy replacing the worn-out roof tiles with new ones that will last a very long time. When I stopped by to take some photos of the work a week ago, the louvers on the steeple were also being repainted; and I understand that the rest of the building is to be painted this coming week. Very exciting!

It is a wonderful thing to see this small group of committed people keeping alive the stories, the history, and of course the actual structure of Hazzards Corners Church for all of us, and for those who come after us, to appreciate and enjoy. And good for them for moving into the social-media era and keeping us informed of what’s going on (even including photos of the very cute fox who’s taken up residence under the church) via Facebook. Smart move.

Their dedication inspires others. A few years ago, the children of the late Everett and Pearl Moorcroft, Hazzards parishioners, contributed the money to build what is very probably the world’s cutest church outhouse:

Hazzards outhouse

As you can imagine, at Hazzards events there always are a lot of photo ops outside that outhouse!

At the risk of being a little over-churchy for non-churchy readers, I thought I’d start drawing this post to a close with the full text of Violet Alleyn Storey’s A Country Church. I think its words are rather perfect in the context of this particular country church at Hazzards Corners. Here it is, and if it’s too much for you, just skip on to the end.

A Country Church

I think God seeks this house, serenely white,
Upon this hushed, elm-bordered street, as one
With many mansions seeks, in calm delight,
A boyhood cottage intimate with sun.

I think God feels Himself the Owner here,
Not just rich Host to some self-seeking throng,
But Friend of village folk who want Him near
And offer Him simplicity and song.

No stained-glass windows hide the world from view,
And it is well. The world is lovely there,
Beyond clear panes, where branch-scrolled skies look through,
And fields and hills, in morning hours of prayer.

God spent His youth with field and hill and tree,
And Christ grew up in rural Galilee.

– Violet Alleyn Storey

For those who, like me, are moved by this evocation of God’s presence in a place of “simplicity and song”; and also for those who may rarely attend church but who appreciate historic buildings and maybe even belting out some old familiar hymns – the service this coming Sunday afternoon at Hazzards is for us all. Here are the details:

Hazzards Summer Service 2016 poster

At this past year’s Christmas service, Hazzards Church was packed. Every pew spot was filled, as was every chair that could be rounded up and placed in the aisles. A whole bunch of people stood against the back wall through the whole service, just to be part of that meaningful event in that lovely old place.

What does that tell you about this coming Sunday? This: come early if you want to get a seat! And hey – if Grant tells you to dig deep, please do. Let’s keep this good thing going.

18 thoughts on “A historic country church, and a commitment to the future

  1. Thanks for the kind remarks. We are blessed with great community support. While the painting will not all be done in time for our Aug. 21 service, the entire exterior will have a face lift soon. Our next project is the interior. See you on the 21st.

    • Thanks, Johannah! Yes, I was delighted to discover that poem thanks to the authors of Pilgrimage of Faith. I found it interesting that they didn’t attribute the lines; perhaps the poem was so well-known back then that they assumed they didn’t need to. Times have changed…

  2. Wonderful post, Katherine, on the Hazzards church. My family’s connection to it goes back to the first years when my many Kincaid ancestors in the township were among the original congregation. They came to Canada as members of the Church of Ireland (Anglicans) but most of them switched to Methodist because the Anglicans were slow to serve the spiritual needs of Hastings County pioneers and the Methodists were there with roadside preachers and the first permanent buildings. And three cheers for the Hazzards community which worked hard to preserve the building when Head Office pulled the plug. I’ll also endorse your positive references to the book Pilgrimage of Faith which is a wonderful source of information for anyone interested in local history.

    • Yes, the Methodists were definitely in “meet the people where they live” mode, what with the circuit riders and meetings in homes and schoolhouses (before churches were built) back in those early days in our part of Ontario. It was cool to see the Kincaid name listed among the founders of the church in reading through that section of Pilgrimage of Faith. Hope we might see you this coming Sunday!

  3. Hi Kathy: Thank you for posting this great reminder to folks who just might be inspired to attend our summer service at Hazzards. This service means so much to we who attended for many years and received our continuing faith in God and our neighbours. Len and I were the last ones married there by your Dad when Hazzards was still an active United Church and we just celebrated our 50th Anniversary…so something stuck. We are so thankful to you for your post and refreshing everyones memory of what this building means to a lot of people and did mean to everyone buried in this lovely cemetary. Thanks again for your great post and keep up the wonderful work you do in reminding people that the simple things in life mean a lot…and we should not ever forget our roots. We are so lucky to live where we do.

    Sincerely….Bev Holmes

    • Bev, you’ve said it better than I ever could: “The simple things in life mean a lot, and we should never forget our roots. We are so lucky to live where we do.” That is all so, so true. I am happy to do whatever I can to get that message out. And hey (I know it’s a little late, but I didn’t know the date) – a very happy 50th anniversary to you and Len!

  4. Katherine

    Thank you for the wonderful update on Hazzards Corners Church. I’ve had it on my calendar just in case we decided on another research trip up that way. Let us know when a date is set for 2017.

  5. Hi Katherine, how lovely to find this blog. My family line traces back through this community and my father and some uncles have stopped by the church before. The matriarch of our family (Marg Hazzard, my grandmother, married to the late Russ) just passed last week, so the family has been getting together and sharing old stories. They gave birth to 12 kids including my father. I’m still working to confirm the direct lineage of my grandfather, but it seems that they landed in Rhode Island, came up through New York State and ended up near Madoc, before moving down through southwestern Ontario where my grandfather founded Hazzards Farm Services (now part of Southwest Ag Partners). One version of the family tree I’ve seen shows that at some point some of my relatives may have dropped one of the “Z’s” in the spelling of their name.

    Curious, does the book “Pilgrimage of Faith” include information about my relatives? If so I may see if I can get a copy for our family.

    Thanks again for the work you’ve done here!

    • Hello, Jared – what a pleasure to hear from a descendant of the Hazzards of Hazzards Corners! My condolences on the recent loss of your grandmother. I’ve just gone back to my well-worn copy of Pilgrimage of Faith, and found that there is some mention of the Hazzard family in the chapter on Hazzards Corners Church, though not a great deal. It tells us that the land on which the church was built was purchased from your ancestor Joseph Hazzard, and that a James Hazzard was a trustee of the church at the time of the land sale. “Without a doubt ‘Hazzards Corners’ received that name from the Hazzard families who lived round about the ‘Corner,’ and from whom the land was bought for both church and cemetery,” it says. While that’s pretty much it as far as the Hazzard family is concerned, the chapter on Hazzards Corners Church is a long and interesting one, and has quite a few photos. If you’re inclined to get a copy (it’s $10 for a hardcover in pristine condition), I can certainly arrange it! You might also be interested to know that, after the exterior restoration and painting work the church underwent last year, this year a considerable restoration project is being done on the interior. You can follow progress at the Hazzards Corners Church Facebook page. The project is expected to be complete in time for the church’s 160th anniversary celebration on Sunday, Aug. 20. As a descendant of the family whose land made the building of the church possible, you should come and introduce yourself!

      • I would love a copy of the book! I would be happy to transfer $10 plus the cost of shipping (I live in Vancouver). Just let me know where to send it.

        I don’t have plans to be back in Ontario this summer but I will certainly pass on the info to my Ontario family. It would be great if any of them could make it for the 160th celebration!

      • Hi again, Jared – I will email you the contact information for my friend Grant Ketcheson, one of the key people at Hazzard’s Church. He’ll be happy to arrange to get you a copy of Pilgrimage of Faith. Hope to see some of your family at the August service!

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