A good foundation: St. Andrew's, Riverview, continues.
They are found on nearly every winding back road in this country, nestled amid hay fields and headstones: the white clapboard country church. With historic downtown churches throwing open their doors and modern churches thriving in the suburbs, the small white country church could be a quaint footnote in the story about church survival--until you meet the members of St. Andrew's, Riverview, Nova Scotia.
"As long as I could remember, church was held at the little school," Donn Mattinson recalls while sitting on the front porch of his farmhouse along the shores of River Phillip in northeastern Nova Scotia. While the congregation formed in 1932, "in 1936, a minister [Rev. E.G. Foote] came in and decided they should build a church. A church for the community of Riverview," the 81-year-old says. He points to his woodlot on the other side of the river. "They cut the logs across the river there and brought them over on the ice. In the spring, they hauled them to the site."
Mattinson's father, Floyd Mattinson, also donated the quarter of an acre just up the road where the church sits. The pews and pulpit came from a church in New Anaan that had just closed and the rest of the materials were donated. They purchased what they had to.
"Money was scarce," remembers Mattinson, who was 14 at the time. "Everyone pitched in. Some didn't give as much as others for the simple reason they couldn't. Everyone was poor."
What they had were many hands to get the work done. "Community effort built that church," Mattinson says. In the '30s, the farming community of Riverview boasted at least eight large, solid Presbyterian families, including the Mattinsons, the Mackays, the Dixons, the Frasers and the Simpsons. While many of those names are still found on the mailboxes along Route 301, the church now may see only eight people attend Sunday afternoon worship.
Yet Mattinson remains adamant. "It's a church for the community of Riverview and it always will be."
The church's 88-year-old clerk of session still remembers the awe she felt the day the church opened in 1939. "It was a good feeling to know that the building was finished and we could have services there instead of in a schoolhouse," says Dorothy Dixon. "It was really wonderful."
She is the last remaining Dixon to attend the church; her father-in-law, Philip, was the first Sunday school superintendent. There hasn't been a Sunday school at St. Andrew's in many years. Nor any new members.
"Some of the people in this settlement are not Presbyterians," she points out. "After the war, a lot of our young people married and settled in other places so we don't have any young people. No children. It's sad."
As the smallest of a three-point pastoral charge (along with Springhill and Oxford), St. Andrew's meets only every other Sunday afternoon. With Oxford less than 15 minutes down the road, why not amalgamate?
"The people in Riverview that go to this church wouldn't go every Sunday or even every second Sunday to Oxford," Mattinson states. "For the simple reason, they wouldn't. But they're more apt to go to the local church." His own resistance has a deep personal source. "I was born here and I'm gonna die here and I'm gonna go to church here." The emotion in his voice is unmistakable. For this former farmer and trucker, this church--and the routines of maintaining it and opening it up every other Sunday--must provide him with as much reassurance as the house he has shared with his wife for 59 years.
Dixon remembers her mother-in-law declaring that "as long as she was living, this little church would never close. She looked on it as a Mattinson church and she fought tooth and nail with Pictou Presbytery over different things to keep this church open." More than 30 years after the death of Margaret Mattinson, St. Andrew's remains open; better than ever, one could add. A generous bequest plus a few bake sales allowed the congregation to add a finished basement under the church in 1995.
"All we had was a stone foundation," Mattinson explains, "and it's pretty hard to hold a building in any condition over the years unless you have a good foundation. The money was there and we decided to do it. It's there forever."
The attachment to this building goes beyond donations of timber and front steps and tablecloths. "It's the best example of the 'church family,'" Rev. Elizabeth Davies says of her congregation at St. Andrew's. "It's a family in a very real sense. They know each other so well. They have absolute trust in each other."
Davies, who is retired, has been at this pastoral charge since 2004. Her impression of this congregation is that "they are steadfast and confident in their faith." Yet when asked if there is any future for this church, she answers, "I don't know. If you just look at the ages and the mobility, I don't know what will happen. But I'm catching the feeling that as long as they can keep the doors open, they will."
If the youngest members of this congregation are nearing 60, what will sustain the church? "Faith is what built this church," Dorothy Dixon says. "It was our faith that started it and our faith that kept it going."
The substantial donations of time, money and materials haven't hurt either. As his 82nd birthday loomed, Donn Mattinson admitted that his hope for the future of his church is growth. "For more people to move in and go to church. For it to stay open."
Is that realistic? There is a small hesitation before he answers. "Yep." But his voice is quieter, lacking confidence. "Can't see why not." He believes, after all, that the small white church built by the edge of the woods rests on a good foundation.
Sara Jewell is a freelance writer,
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|Date:||Mar 1, 2008|
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