The Life of Christ Church: God’s Church on McNab and Lakeshore

By on August 18, 2022

“The cycle of life is coming to a close at Christ Church. We have seen the signs coming for a decade. With very helpful parishioners, we were able to continue longer than we initially expected but now, we can no longer avoid the facts. This church community has had a beautiful run and a profound impact on the surrounding community, and we celebrate that. But it also grieves our hearts that we will have to say ‘so long for now’. We know that St. Paul’s churches in Asia Minor, now Turkey, no longer exist but their story of early days, growth pains and strong ministry remain in Paul’s letters in the New Testament. Out of death comes new life. We are a resurrection people. God always creates new places when the time is right.” ­— The Rev. Dorothy Hewlett, Rector of Christ Church McNab

Nestled among the oaks, maples, and pines, perched on top of the forest-covered cliff that descends to the creek below, stands a monument. Christ Church McNab in Niagara-on-the-Lake — a living testimony to our Creator, our faith, and our world. Standing outside, one marvels at the details shown in the Creator’s work. There is peace as one admires the trees rustling in the lake breeze. If one stands with eyes closed and listens, it is not hard to imagine the Anishinaabe and Haudenosaunee peoples who cared for this land before us. All this while deer, wolves, and raccoons roam the landscape … indeed, the work of God the Creator!

Fast forward three centuries. It is Sunday morning and people gather to celebrate, praise, and give thanks to God the Creator as they partake of Holy Communion. Looking around, one sees the beautiful stained-glass windows animating scripture. On the altar sit the elements reminding us of the Last Supper. To the side stands another altar honouring parishioners who gave their lives for peace. Through the vestibule, hampers of food are gathered as people share their abundance with those in need in the gracious living out of Jesus’s command to “love thy neighbor as thyself.” Outside, the cross atop the steeple glimmers in the sun.

For 169 years, people of faith have been restored and refreshed by these views. The missionary parish was formed in 1847 and met in a one-room schoolhouse a few hundred yards south of the current building. The church cornerstone was laid in 1853, and the first service was held on Christmas Day of that same year.

The building cost $4,000, made possible by two farmers who mortgaged their farms and were later repaid through the sale of cemetery lots in 1860. The original Bible, Prayer Book, and Altar Book for Communion of the parish remain in the church today. Many of the early parishioners were direct descendants of United Empire Loyalists, Americans who supported the British during the American Revolution. Seven generations later, descendants of those families continue to worship here. On October 22, 1860, Bishop Strachan consecrated Christ Church McNab.

Many changes have been made since then. In 1913, the parish hall was built at the northeast corner of the property. In 1934, the horse and buggy shed was demolished and the parish hall moved, taking the place of the carriage barn. This sparked much controversy, but as history would prove, it was a blessing. In a 1946 storm, the church spire crashed down on the original location of the parish hall.

During its lifetime, thousands of people have worshipped in the church and served the surrounding community in many capacities. Most recently, parishioners have been supporting and building relationships with Latino migrant farm workers who staff the farms and vineyards in the region. Shared communal meals and Spanish communion services under the umbrella of the Diocese of Niagara’s mission to Migrant Farmworkers have been impactful for parishioners and migrant farm workers alike.

As the community at Christ Church continues to change, what will happen to Christ Church McNab? We cannot know the future, but we put our faith in God knowing that God has a mission, and that mission has a church. Something will become of this space that has nurtured so many.

Whatever happens next, we can trust that as one walks the property, the spirit of generations past and present will remind everyone of the power of God in Jesus Christ to transform lives through loving relationships. This consecrated space will ensure a constant reminder of our Creator and Redeemer.

  • David Servos is a parishioner at Christ Church McNab in Niagara-on-the-Lake.

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