Unitarian Universalist Church of Olinda
news of our historic UU church in Ruthven (Kingsville), Ontario

Our Church

We are a liberal UU church, founded here in the southern-most part of mainland Canada, on November 10, 1880, as a Universalist church. The sanctuary dates from 1881. See history below. You are welcome here.

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Although our address is in Ruthven, Ontario, we reside in the township of Kingsville and are close to Leamington and Point Pelee National Park. Both Kingsville and Leamington lie on Lake Erie and are favorite travel destinations and retirement communities. Our members come from as far away as Windsor and Amherstburg to Chatham.

Address / Phone Number

2953 Olinda Side Road, Ruthven, Ontario N0P 2G0  (519) 326-4352

Contact Information

Our current interim minister Rev. Fran Dearman arrived in early September  2016.

PHONE (Please leave a message): 519-326-4352

Church email: uuolinda [at] gmail.com

Webmaster email: baylis [at] uwindsor.ca

Website: www.uuolinda.org

Please see our newsletters for Titles of Services, events, and reports.

Board of Trustees

President: John Upcott

Vice President: Ray Stone

Secretary: Laurie Stone

Finance: Elaine Stevenson

Treasurer: Helen Moore

Membership: Lorie Lyons

Religious Education: Sharon van Abbema

Property: Laurie Hylton

Sunday Services: Bill Baylis

Interim Minister: the Rev. Frances Dearman (started Sept. 2016)

Lay Chaplain: Joyse Gilbert

Mission Statement

This church was founded on the faith that love is a more positive force for good than fear. It exists as a haven of religious freedom, offering fellowship, knowledge and inspiration to all who would seek truth, live responsibly and courageously, and be of service to humanity.

Principles

We, the Member Congregations of the Canadian Unitarian Council, Covenant to Affirm and Promote:

  • The inherent worth and dignity of every person;
  • Justice equity and compassion in human relations;
  • Acceptance of one another and encouragement to spiritual growth in our congregations;
  • A free and responsible search for truth and meaning;
  • The right of conscience and the use of the democratic process within our congregations and in society at large;
  • The goal of world community with peace, liberty, and justice for all;
  • Respect for the interdependent web of all existence of which we are a part.

Grateful for the religious pluralism which enriches and ennobles our faith, we are inspired to deepen our understanding and expand our vision. As free congregations we enter into this covenant, promising to one another our mutual trust and support.

History

In 1881 Olinda was a little hamlet served by a general store, a post office, a school, a Methodist Church, and a blacksmith shop. The scene was to change that year, with the building of a new church by a congregation calling itself Universalist. It was a different kind of church in that it rejected the doctrine of eternal punishment. For Universalists, God was the loving father of all, no more capable of inflicting endless torment on any of his children than a human father would be. This meant that all would ultimately be saved, salvation was universal.

Although it was a Christian church, in more orthodox religious circles Universalism was seen as a threat to public morality. Without fear of hell-fire to keep them in line, the reasoning went, human beings would surely yield to their inborn sinful nature and sink into hopeless depravity. Universalists rejected this pessimistic view of human nature, convinced that love was more effective than fear in making people good.

The man responsible for bring this radical idea to Olinda was Michael “Big Mike” Fox, a local settler of upright character and kindly instincts. He had been given his nickname by the local Chippewa, with whom he felt a human kinship that was rare in that day. About 1840 he had given them a small plot of land to use as a burying ground. This tiny cemetery, marked by a single stone, can still be seen today on the Fourth Concession just west of County Road 34.

About 1860 Universalist literature had come into Mr. Fox’s hands, and he had immediately recognized its message as one that accorded with his natural instincts. For twenty years he circulated literature and arranged for itinerant ministers to conduct occasional services, which were held in the maple grove just south of where the church now stands, or, in winter, in the local schoolhouse. The message of a loving rather than vengeful God found favour with many of his relatives and neighbours, who had no taste for the lurid descriptions of hell-fire so prevalent in that day.

Finally, on November 10, 1880, 14 men and 9 women met to organize the church met to found the First Universalist Parish of Olinda. Once a month a minister came from Michigan (by ferry to Windsor, train to Essex, and horse-drawn buggy to Olinda) to conduct two mid-week evening services. The following year, on land donated by Mr. Fox, a church was erected, for $1950. Today that building holds the distinction of being the oldest in Canada built by a Unitarian or Universalist congregation, and still in use as a UU Church. This distinction has been recognized by the Province of Ontario, in the form of an Historic Plaque erected outside the church.

In 1881 there were five other Universalist churches in the province (in Bloomfield, Smithfield, Port Dover, Nixon and Blenheim), all members of the Universalist Convention of Ontario. The little churches were handicapped from the beginning by scattered membership, chronic money problems, long periods without ministers, and sectarian bigotry. At the time of the building of the Olinda church, one scornful skeptic predicted that he would live to see it used as a sheep-pen. Universalism’s heretical doctrine, and its scandalous practice of ordaining women, made it a tempting target. As late as 1921, at Olinda, the validity of a marriage was challenged because one of the officiating ministers had been a woman. Only two of the six Ontario churches survived into the Twentieth Century, Olinda and Blenheim. Blenheim closed in 1938. After that Olinda remained one of only three Universalist churches in all of Canada (the other two being in Halifax and North Hatley, Quebec).

After World War One, the parsonage was built at Olinda. For the next twenty years the church was to play a unique role as a social centre for the community. The young people’s organization held dances that were popular for miles around with young people of all religious persuasions. They also staged ambitious plays in the church, and in theatres in neighbouring towns. The sturdy hooks still embedded in the front walls of the sanctuary date from that period. They anchored wires from which hung the stage curtain, and smaller curtains across the corners, which provided tiny dressing rooms. These activities were profitable, and contributed substantially to church finances. One durable legacy from that period is the cutlery used today for our potluck meals.

A women’s organization was formed about 1914, and since that time has been a source of invaluable support to the church. As well as equipping, furnishing and decorating the parsonage, it also contributed in earlier years to operating expenses and capital improvements. This support was all-important through the depression of the Thirties. In 1938 the money contributed by the Women’s Association exceeded the amount received in congregational offerings. Though now reduced in numbers, the Women’s Association continues, with money raised at its annual rummage and bake sale, to fund the coffee hour and make improvements to the church. It also organizes the church presence at, and contribution to, the annual Ruthven Apple Festival.

After the Second World War, social change began to take its toll. Families were smaller, and many of the younger generation of traditional Universalist families were leaving the farm for schooling and employment. Young people frequently married non-Universalists, and more often than not gravitated to the larger church of their spouse. However, two 12 year long ministries gave the church beneficial periods of stability and continuity. Stewart Moore came in 1951, and Leonard Thompson in 1965. The Unitarian Universalist merger in 1961 (for which the congregation had voted 19 to 2), and the creation of the Canadian Unitarian Council, ended the church’s isolation, and Olinda gradually joined the denominational mainstream. The church’s name was changed to reflect the fact of the merger. The traditional Universalist message was interpreted more broadly, to embrace all shades of belief and unbelief. It was a sign of growing confidence that many building improvements were carried out.

In 1966 the church made history and headlines when some members protested to the township school board about the fundamentalist religious indoctrination being carried on in the local elementary schools. It was a harrowing experience, because of the local hostility stirred up, and a frustrating one, because it appeared at the time to have been in vain. It was therefore a source of satisfaction to the veterans of this affair when the Ontario Court of Appeal, 24 years later, declared religious indoctrination in the public schools to be unconstitutional, and it was discontinued.

Olinda saw gradual but steady progress under the leadership of Conrad Dippel (1978-80, 1992-93), Martha Munson (1982-87), and Maureen Thitchener (l988-91). Conrad introduced Coffee Hour, an enormously popular innovation, as it is elsewhere in the denomination, and a Monthly Newsletter. His sermons were widely admired as being intellectual and relevant, and brought several new members to the church. Martha helped the church to develop much needed Bylaws and improve its organizational structure. She successfully continued Conrad’s efforts to reach out, especially to Windsor. She also got the church to think about moving the Minister out of the parsonage. This did not happen, however, until Maureen arrived at the church. Her ministry was comparatively short but she made the church much more visible in the county due to her active membership on several boards. She initiated the Windsor luncheons and helped to solidify the church’s presence in that community. Anne Treadwell’s ministry (1993-98) was marked by a significant growth in numbers by appealing to segments of the community which had not been part of the traditional make-up of the church. Once she had departed some of the newer members resigned to form a fellowship in Windsor in which to engage in kinds of social action that are perhaps more appropriate for an urban church.

During the period without a minister, services have been well attended, programs have continued as before, and the experience the church has garnered during several interregnums has been put to good use. The highlight of the 1999 Church Year was the month long visit of the Minister of our partner church in Fuzesgyarmat in Hungary, Laszlo Balaczi and his wife Maria. The visit was funded by monies raised at our Goods and Services Auctions over the past several years. Laszlo preached two excellent sermons and was able to meet almost all the members of the congregation at a numerous picnics, pot-lucks and home visits. We had a welcoming banner in Hungarian from the Bedford, Mass. UU Church hung across the outside of the church which attracted much local interest. Contact was made with the local Canadian-Hungarian community and one contact in particular proved very fruitful. The Balaczis went back to Hungary, by way of Niagara Falls, secure in the knowledge that they won the hearts of everyone at Olinda and cemented the partner relationship for ever.

The Olinda Church is a happy, warm and friendly place. It looks forward to another hundred years or so of providing a dynamic form of liberal religion in the Southwestern region of the Province of Ontario.

Our Sources

The living tradition which we share draws from many sources:

  • direct experience of that transcending mystery and wonder, affirmed in all cultures, which moves us to a renewal of the spirit and an openness to the forces which create and uphold life
  • words and deeds of prophetic women and men which challenge us to confront powers and structures of evil with justice, compassion, and the transforming power of love
  • wisdom from the world’s religions which inspire us in our ethical and spiritual life
  • Jewish and Christian teachings which call us to respond to God’s love by loving our neighbours as ourselves
  • Humanist teachings which counsel us to heed the guidance of reason and the results of science, and warn us against idolatries of the mind and spirit
  • spiritual teachings of earth-centred traditions which celebrate the sacred circle of life and instruct us to live in harmony with the rhythms of nature
Canadian Unitarian Council