Narthex Windows

The Narthex Windows
Bloor Street United Church
Dedicated December 20, 1959
Collated by Alice P. Aitken

There are nine Panels, three groups of three, all distinctively Canadian. Each Panel represents a minister who served God and his church in a significant way. These men laboured on Canadian soil, building a Canadian Church-not Canadian in name only but suited to the varying needs of the young nation. Each minister appears in a background and in an attitude suggesting the particular piece of work which was his greatest contribution to the United Church of Canada and to our country.

The ministers portrayed in the three left Panels, as you face them from the inside, served in pioneer days, the three churches which later united to form the United Church of Canada. Those portrayed in the three right Panels made distinctive contributions during the further development of those churches. The three central Panels portray the men who were leaders of their respective churches at the time of church Union, June 10, 1925.

The Left Panels

Panel I

Dr. Henry Wilkes (1805-1886) was so convinced that Canada needed a thoroughly enlightened, well-trained and Godly ministry that he left a prosperous business in Montreal to train in Glasgow. He cam back with the commission of the Colonial Missionary Society and with grants to help struggling churches already established, and to start new ones in needy areas. In the Panel, Dr. Wilkes is standing with a family who belonged to the first Congregational Church in Canada, Zion Congregational Church in Montreal. He was much beloved as a pastor and was a great power as an evangelical preacher. He stressed the importance of theological education in academic life, arguing that it should not be left to the sects but should be a part of the University. The grey stone building behind the figures in Congregational College, Montreal, of which Dr. Wilkes was the first principal.

Panel II

Dr. James MacGregor (1759-1830), a Presbyterian scholar and great preacher in both Gaelic and English, is depicted exhorting five people seated at his feet. This is suggestive of the fact that he visited the small, lonely, scattered communities of his field radiating from Pictou, Nova Scotia, and invariably preached for them. Beyond are the blue waters of Pictou Harbour, off Northumberland Strait, along which he paddled and rowed to visit his people in stormy and fair weather alike. Beyond the water is a replica of the cairn unveiled in his honour one hundred and fifty years after he landed from Scotland. The inscription is significant: „When the early settlers of Pictou could afford to a minister little else than a participation in their hardships, he cast in his lot with the destitute, became to them a pattern of patient endurance, and cheered them with the tidings of salvation. Neither toil or privation deterred him from his Master's work and the pleasure of the Lord prospered in his hands.š

Panel III

Dr. William Case (1780-1855) in coat and hat is standing beside a fine horse, on which are the characteristic saddlebags. Dr. Case began his career as a Methodist circuit preacher, and travelled thousands of miles on horseback. He is said to have been „well mountedš always and always suitably attired. Behind him is the early Methodist Church with a simple dwelling beside it, both nestled in the virgin forest. As the first Superintendent of Indian Missions and schools in Upper Canada, he raised money for buildings and for the preparation of his own preachers and teachers, so eager was he to instruct his converts and their children. He fostered the translation of parts of the Bible and some hymns, and provided literature and training so that the Indians could become self-supporting and in every way good citizens. Missions to him meant the lifting of physical as well as spiritual well being. After the separation from the Methodist Episcopal Church in the United States, Dr. Case became the first General Superintendent of the Methodist Episcopal Church in Canada.

The Centre Panels

Panel IV

Dr. William T. Gunn (1867-1930) is standing against a background of separate small buildings. He was Union Chairman of the Congregational Churches at the time of Church Union in 1925. Not only did he take part in the preparatory planning, but also he led the Congregational Churches in the Union. Dr. Gunn was the third Moderator of the United Church of Canada, 1928-1930. The individual small buildings in the Panel are symbolic of one of the distinctive principles of the Congregational Churches: „The Scriptural right of every separate church to maintain perfect independence in its government and administration.š

Panel V

Dr. George C. Pidgeon (1872-?) was minister of Bloor Street Presbyterian Church, 1915-1925, and of Bloor Street United Church, 1925-1948, and was in the active preaching ministry of the church for sixty-five years. It is suitable that he should be shown in the pulpit. On the front of the pulpit is the seal of the United Church of Canada; on the antependium is the Cross of Iona. Before Church Union Dr. Pidgeon was Chairman of the General Assembly's Committee on Church Union; later he was the Convenor of the Joint Committee on Church Union, the first Moderator of the Presbyterian church in Canada, and the first Moderator of the United Church of Canada.

The Seal of the United Church of Canada

Earlier than 1928 a committee of seven was set up by the Executive of the General Council to design this seal. The artist submitted models but without pleasing the committee. In 1943, Dr. Gordon A. Sisco, Dr. J.R.P. Sclater and Dr. Victor T. Mooney were authorised to complete this project, and a design by Dr. Mooney based on earlier models was adopted by the General Council in 1944. The seal is the official signature of the United Church, and appears on all legal documents. The oval shape is derived from the outline of a fish, the secret symbol of early Christians. The letters of the Greek word for fish are the first letters of the words, Jesus Christ, Son of God, Saviour. The „Xš is the first letter in the Greek word for Christ and stands for the person of Christ. The open Bible represents the Congregational Churches with their emphasis on God's truth that makes humanity men free. The dove, symbol of the transforming power of the Holy Spirit, has been much used by Methodism. The burning bush which was not consumed symbolised for Presbyterians the indestructibility of the church. Alpha and Omega, the first and last letters of the Greek Alphabet, symbolises the Eternal Living God. The Latin words meaning „That all may be oneš come from John 17:21, our Lord's prayer for His disciples just before His trial and crucifixion. This description is taken from a bulletin prepared by Dr. E.E. Long.

The Uniting Churches

The union in 1925 was of three churches: the Congregational, the Methodist, and the Presbyterian. Each of the three, however, had already had previous unions in its history. The United Church of Canada is really a union of forty churches.

Panel VI

Dr. Samuel D. Chown (1853-1933) was the first Protestant minister of any Canadian church „to be set aside to the special task of developing the social consciousness of Church and Community.š As head of the department of Evangelism and Social Service he felt he accomplished his best piece of work for the church. From 1910-1925 he was General Superintendent of the Methodist Church, and was no small influence in brining the Union into being. In the Panel he is shown as he stood on the platform of the Mutual Street Arena on June 10, 1925. Behind him is the chair and part of the great audience witnessing the actual Union of the three churches. Dr. Chown is in the act of pronouncing the three churches, one.

The Right Panels

Panel VII

Dr. Egerton Ryerson (1803-1882) is standing in front of the first building of the University of Victoria College in Cobourg. He was one of the early Methodist circuit riders dedicated to the training of an educated ministry. He was instrumental in obtaining for the College a royal charter and he was its first principal. He was the first editor of The Christian Guardian, the influential journal of the Methodist Church; and was one of the founders of the Book Room. The Ryerson Press still bears his name. As Superintendent of Public Instruction Egerton Ryerson devised the school system of Upper Canada, a system that in 1894 was considered the finest in the world. It has provided a sound foundation for our schools of today, and has been copied again and again. Ryerson was resolved that free education should be placed within the reach of every Canadian parent for every Canadian child. It is on his reputation as a churchman, however, that he stands in this group of pioneer ministers.

Panel VIII

Rev. James Evans (1801-1846) Methodist Missionary to the native people in the West. This Panel is similar to a painting by C.W. Jeffreys. In the painting, there are about eighteen native people seated around James Evans; in the background is a lake, a loaded canoe near the shore, and two points in the distance outlined by evergreen trees. The Panel shows the Missionary at the foot of a Birch tree demonstrating on its bark the meaning of the syllabic characters he invented to give the natives a written language. James Evans completed the first book printed in the Canada West, and it was (excepting the lead for the type) entirely of Canadian materials: an old fur press, paper of birch bark, hand-made type fashioned out of lead from tea chests, ink of lampblack and oil, binding of deerskin and leather tongs. The printed word not only made education possible among the native tribes, but it gave them an easy translation of Scripture and hymns.

Panel IX

Dr. James Robertson (1839-1902) the great Superintendent of Missions to the West and North-West. „Canada west of the Great Lakes was his mission field∑The story of his work is the history of the Presbyterian Church in Western Canada.š He is here represented standing against a background of his beloved prairie, and beyond the prairie are the foothills of the Rockies. He is taking leave of one of his young missionaries. From the Pacific to the Yukon and east to the Great Lakes he travelled as many miles as to circle the earth ten times and more. Wherever he found a group of Presbyterian settlers he created a mission station, and bound them all together with those in the East into the Presbyterian Church in Canada. He was elected Moderator of the Presbyterian Church in Canada in 1895. He knew the West when it was first being settled as no one else did, and his reports are worthy a place in the history of the nation. His family was members of Bloor Street Presbyterian Church. Terms of Reference for the Committee Appointed to Choose Windows for the Narthex „The purpose is to resolve a final list of the nine personalities most closely associated with the Founding, in 1925, of The United Church of Canada. „While more than nine men may qualify, in respect to their contribution to Union, their regional standing needs to be considered in order to compress the project into nine representative parts. „As far as is known, the project involved is the only one yet to be attempted. Since it is to go down into history as a permanent Commemoration of the most vital event in recent Canadian church history, selection is quite important.š „The work and environment of the people concerned, as well as their personalities, are to influence nine motifs to be conveyed through the medium of stained glass. All of these together commemorate one event, the Founding of the United Church of Canada.š

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15 Oct 2003
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