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Doing it themselves: a story of loss, hope and rebirth.

West Huntington, Ont., is a tiny country church located along Highway 62 in the heart of Hastings County farming country. At 128 years of age, it's one of a small group of country churches remaining in the region. We don't have running water--there is none on the property. Our toilet is a composting one and the furnace only runs on Sundays, or Saturday night and Sunday when it's really cold. Electric ranges boil the dishwater. The stained glass window at the back of the church traces beautiful colours on the pews and floor and the old bell in the tower rings out joyfully every Sunday morning. What we lack in quantity, we make up in quality as our voices blend to raise the hymns to heaven.

Traditionally, country churches do not have a long list of names on the roll, but our numbers were exceptionally low. Something had to be done--choices had to be made. Over the years we've had our share of tiffs and disagreements, but the last one tore us apart, and that shouldn't happen among God's people. We have lost faithful lifetime members and weakened a good relationship with a sister church.

But, God has a plan for us. With His blessing, we rise again. We are tiny, but tough. The remaining small group has pulled together to rebuild out of the ashes of ruin. For the present we cannot afford a minister, so we enjoy the sermons delivered by retired and lay ministers who are happy to share the word of God. One congregant is presently training through Knox College's online lay ministry program. She takes her turn in the pulpit one Sunday each month.

We needed money--it was essential that we build up depleted reserves. We immediately invited our neighbours for a spring gospel concert and Christmas program. The church was full. We invited friends, neighbours and church "alumni" to our anniversary in June. The church was packed. Both are annual events now.

We've dared to think outside the box--we tried a walkathon around a country block. That turned out to be more than 10 kilometres. Pictures tell the tale of sore feet and blisters but we were well supported! In fact it has become a biennial event.

After several years of nothing, we once again had a successful spring bake and yard sale. The people kept on coming and they loved our baking; they took away our treasures. At the end of the day, we took the few things that remained to the firefighters' yard sale down the highway. The community expects it now--homemade goodies are gratefully purchased by busy farm wives and working country urbanites.

At Christmastime, 11 members braved the cold to serenade the widowed and lonely with Christmas carols under the stars. It wasn't a fundraiser. It was our gift to the community. Because of the cold we had not planned to make a lot of stops, but neighbours sent us to other neighbours because they knew the music would be appreciated. We went, and it was.

Birthday Sunday continues on the first Sunday of each month, with cake and coffee and a lusty rendition of Happy Birthday. On the third Sunday in the month, we enjoy "Toonie Sunday," again with coffee and goodies and a good, old-fashioned visit over coffee and dishes. Twice a year we get together for a morning to give the church a good housecleaning and necessary small repairs. Large repairs are ongoing. All of these things work well to bring us together and build community spirit.

We have a full session of five elders. They attend every meeting. Our roll has grown by five adherents and one new member. On Tuesday evenings we meet in a home for Bible study. The group has been together for more than 12 years and we learn many things from each other. The studies on angels and Revelations left us aware of how little we really know, and how much we want to learn. We are presently delighting in the revelation of scripture as we study Heaven by Randy Alcorn. Plans to hold Bible study at the church and to invite neighbours are underway.

Throughout the month we bring in donations of food which are picked up on the third Sunday and delivered to People Helping People, a community sharing and help program. The child we sponsored in Romania, through World Vision, no longer needs our support and we have received the name of a new child we will sponsor. We've filled many shoeboxes for Samaritan's Purse and have purchased chickens and roosters and stocked a medical clinic through World Vision. We have shared our money with a neighbouring church in need of major repairs.

God has been good and we hear His voice. So many good things are happening. Where He is leading us, we still do not know. What He has in mind, we will wait and see, but we do not sit back and expect Him to do all the work. The sharing and learning continue and the desire to know more about the teaching of His word grows stronger.

Gina Sikkema is a freelance writer and a member at West Huntington, Ont.
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Title Annotation:Congregations; West Huntington, Ontario, Canada
Author:Sikkema, Gina
Publication:Presbyterian Record
Geographic Code:1CANA
Date:Dec 1, 2010
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