British Columbia

Final service for longest-running church in Prince George being held Dec. 31

Due to a dwindling congregation, the Knox United Church is merging with St. Andrew's and leaving the site it has called home since 1922.

Minister says closure of Knox United Church is a 'reflection of the secularization of our society'

One of the oldest buildings in Prince George, Knox United Church is holding its final service on New Year's Eve. (Andrew Kurjata/CBC)

A church building that first opened its doors in downtown Prince George, B.C., 95 years ago is hosting its final service on Dec. 31.

The closure of Knox United Church comes as the congregation dwindles and ages, a "reflection of the secularization of our society," according to outgoing minister Rev. Michael Hare.

The roots of Knox are traced back to 1910, when Presbyterian and Methodist worshippers began holding services in what is now called Prince George. That history makes it the oldest church in the city.

According to the church's website and other historical documents, the Presbyterians moved to the church's current location at 5th Avenue and Brunswick Street in downtown Prince George in 1922, three years before they joined with Methodists and Congregationalists to form the United Church of Canada. By 1956, a larger church had to be built at the same location due to the number of people attending services, but the 1922 building is still used as a gathering space.

In the 1930s, 1940s and 1950s the congregation of Knox United Church grew rapidly, prompting the construction of a larger building which is still used today. (History of the Knox United Church by Rev. F.E. Runnals)

That history will come to an end in 2018 as the roughly three dozen remaining members of Knox United move to a what is currently St. Andrew's to form the new United Church of Prince George.

Hare said the hope is by merging the two congregations, "there will be more energy for new initiatives" within the church, but he worries people don't realize what they're losing by not being members of religious institutions.

"I don't think folks really realize that when you're going through a rough time, how important community is," he said, noting many people think of themselves as "spiritual but not religious", opting to forego traditional worship in favour of private observances.

Some of the community-based aspects of Knox United will be shared on Dec. 31, with former clergy and congregation members being invited to share stories of the past.

Hare said he has seen "a variety of emotions" from his congregation in the weeks leading up to Knox's closure.

"There are some folks who are sad because they've grown up in this congregation, they've been married in this congregation, they've had relations who've been buried in this congregation," he said.

The future of the bell at Knox United Church, which dates back to the 1910s, has not yet been decided.

"Others, I think, are relieved because they won't have to carry the burden of governance they've been carrying the last few years. And I think there are some who are excited about the new possibilities that will result because of the merger [with St. Andrew's]."

There are still decisions to be made about the current church building, which is used by community groups including a daycare and Alcoholics Anonymous. There is also a discussion to be had about the original church bell, which was shipped to the region by paddle wheel boat in 1912.

"Nothing concrete has materialized as of yet,"  Hare said.

"My anticipation is that a fair chunk of 2018 will be spent trying to figure out the future of the building and the site."

The final service at Knox United is Dec. 31 at 10 a.m. PST.