Bethesda of Forest Glen United Church

By Grant Jones

After the original Bethesda United Church was sold and the congregation moved to Forest Glen, services began in Forest Glen Public School in May of 1967 under the leadership of Rev. J. Sheridan Bole and plans for the building of a new church on the corner of Kirkwall and Fieldgate began. Existing groups such as C.G.I.T., U.C.W., and Sunday school grew and new groups as the Couples Club were formed. These mid-week groups and the church committees met in various homes in the neighbourhood. In the spring of 1968 the Rev. Donald Bell was called to Bethesda from Beaver Valley. He and his wife, Sylvia, were established in the manse on Nobleton Drive.

Bethesda United Church of Forest Glen was constituted as a congregation of the United Church of Canada on June 9, 1968 with 194 charter members. In June 1969, a sod-turning ceremony was celebrated on the site of the new church and on October 19, 1969 the corner stone was laid by the Rev. Donald F. Bell. Among the articles contained in the corner stone were a bible, a history of old Bethesda, photographs of groups from the old Bethesda church, a sheet of music given in memory of Roy E. Pallett and local newspapers. March 1, 1970 was the official opening and dedication of Bethesda United Church of Forest Glen. Bethesda’s name comes from Old Jerusalem and the natural spring or pool where people gather to bathe in the healing water of the pool. Our logo, depicted in the bricks on the front wall of the sanctuary, reminds us of the five porches or gates of Bethesda and the moving water of the pool (John 5:2).

With Don Bells’ encouragement and leadership, Bethesda initiated many community services and activities including the Bethesda Co-Operative Pre-School, The Bethesda Concert series, and Distress Line. The first Bethesda Concert Series was held during the 1971-1972 season and these concerts continued for 17 years until the final performance on Sunday April 16, 1987.

Rev. Tony Gazzard came to us from Bermuda in 1974. Sunday School attendance was often over 100 in the 1970s. We required two morning services to accommodate the crowds at church. The Youth Group flourished under Tony’s leadership (particularly the trip to Bermuda) and the teen choir sang regularly. In September of 1976 our Sunday School had a staff of 30.

In the summer of 1977 Bethesda joined with St. Luke’s-on-the-Hill for summer services, with the ministers from each church taking alternate summer months. Also in 1977 Bethesda produced a weekly TV programme “celebration” with the aid of neighbouring churches. A Fellowship group for singles was formed in 1979.

Choir rehearsal, June 22, 2003In December 1980 came the arrival of the first refugee family sponsored by the St. Luke’s – Bethesda Committee for the Boat People. In January 1981 Rev. Lawrence Purdy came to us from the Hamilton Conference Office to become our minister. He encouraged us to establish goals. He led the Wednesday prayer and Praise group and introduced us to the green hymn book “Songs of a Gospel People” and the pre-sermon Prayer Song.
Gerry Brown was our interim minister in 1985 and early 1986 and during that period he encouraged fulfillment of our basic need for fellowship and caring relationships. An activities festival gave everyone an opportunity to explore activities, groups and organizations that currently existed or could potentially be developed.

Rev. Bob Tschanz came from Dunnville in July 1986. He enjoyed working with student ministers and, through him, we were fortunate to be served by Paul Rockwood and Molly Thompson. In June 1988 we celebrated our 20th anniversary with a dinner attended by several of our former ministers.

Rev. Walter Beecham was our interim minister from September 1989 until the summer of 1990. During this period our finances improved and our fellowship strengthened. In 1989, the Dixie-Bloor Neighbourhood Centre was established on our premises with their expanding programme of community activities. In 1989 worship was led by the Moderator, The Right Rev. Sang Chui Lee. The first ethnic dinner highlighted his visit. These dinners became an annual event.

Rev. Donald Bell returned in 1996, almost 28 years after his first arrival in 1968, to continue his ministry at Bethesda. Later, Mark Douglas joined Bethesda staff to focus on Sunday School and youth development. The last clergyperson to minister to the Bethesda congregation was Rev. Robin Thompson.

All of these wonderful ministers have added much to Bethesda of Forest Glen. We have learned from them, laughed with them and shared our sorrows. We thank them all as we journey on into the future.

Our heartfelt thanks also to the men and women to whose devotion and sacrifice our church has stood as a monument. These early pioneers and many others who served and worshipped here, left us a legacy of hope for which we are truly thankful.

Photos from Grant Jones and Applewood United Church archives.