Future of historic Ravenscliffe Road church up in the air

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Talk has been circulating for some time now about the possibility of historic St. John’s the Baptist Anglican Church closing due to lack of funds to keep it up and running.

And the rumours have got longtime resident and church supporter Ruth Binks advocating the importance that church has for the Ravenscliffe community.

Binks explained that two years ago, the Anglican Priests of the Muskoka Deanery were concerned about the amount of work that was needed on 14 of the surrounding area’s historical churches. From that meeting, it was noted that that it was too much for small congregations to be able to handle financially. A proposal went to the bishop recommending that those churches be closed. Since then, the future of those churches has been up in the air.

“Any considerations or changes made that could lose all those little churches doesn’t seem like a practical idea,” she says.

But according to Binks, that beautiful, historic church on Ravenscliffe Road in particular has been a landmark for well over a century and to see it close would be a devastating loss.

Her ancestors were among the first settlers in the Huntsville area and Sinclair Road (located off Ravenscliffe) has been where her family has resided for generations. Her great-grandfather helped erect the church back in the early 1800s. She recalls attending regular services at the church when she was just a little girl and she even walked to school at the old school house (now the Ravenscliffe Community Centre). To see the church have to close due to money will be a “very sad day” and she’s doing everything she can to help keep it alive.

In the last five years, St. John’s has undergone a major renovation thanks to many donations from the friends of the parish as well members of the public. The donated funds allowed for an addition to be put on the back of the church, which created a small hall and meeting room as well as washrooms, a furnace room and a new heating system.

St. John’s is the perfect example of a historical landmark in Huntsville. It even has a small cemetery with century-old tombstones of some of the early Ravenscliffe Road settlers.

Considering the large amount of money that went into renovating the church, the possibility of it closing seems “kind of ridiculous,” says Binks.

According to information contained in St. John’s annual vestry meeting agenda, many community events were held at the church last year including barbecues, potlucks and concerts. It was noted that the concerts are a huge asset to the church’s services of worship.

Less than a month ago, Binks went to the town to try to get a number on the amount of residents residing on or near Ravenscliffe Road. There’s approximately 290 and, according to Binks, that figure speaks volumes about why St. John’s needs to stay open.

I don’t feel money has to be the ruler of everything. We need a church. It’s a rallying point in the community.

While Sunday services are still happening at the church and are usually well-attended, there has definitely been a decline in the amount of activity that takes place there. But the people can help bring it back to the vibrant place it once was, says Binks. And a collective effort of some willing helping hands will help make that possible. Back in the day, the church was a prime venue for Christmas bazaars and craft sales, weddings, luncheons and teas as well as other special events and celebrations.

The church has a long-established parish council, which consists mostly of Anglican church women, however, Binks says, the council is open to anyone who is interested in becoming involved.

Also, the church does not discriminate against people of different faith or spirituality attending Sunday services. It’s open to everybody, and having more and more people come out to support it could certainly play a key role in allowing it to remain open.

Binks is hoping that more people will come forward to advocate and support St. John’s church. Anyone who is interested can call Ruth Binks at 705-789-2063.

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3 Comments

  1. If the Anglican Church and/or this Church’s parishioners cannot support its continued operation, why should the taxpayers of Huntsville do so? I believe that Churches do not pay property taxes. That is enough of a subsidy. Every other religious site would be entitled to the same support. There must be a separation of church and state.

  2. Betty Fulton on

    Way to go Ruth! St. John’s is definitely NOT one of the churches the diocese should be closing. It is a beautiful little, well maintained church, very much a part of the Ravenscliffe Community with its own pioneer cemetery on the church grounds. It has had many fine priests tending to it, with huge improvements made to the church during the time GailMarie and Jeff were there – definitely a labour of love with a lot of money and effort exerted by parishioners. While Ches and I attended church elsewhere, we did assist financially, and had many fine meals there during our time in Huntsville. I pray the Ravenscliffe community and others interested will band together to keep the doors open!

  3. The Rev. Judie Cooper on

    I’d like to add some information and clarification to the matter of the closure of St. John the Baptist Anglican Church in Ravenscliffe. I have been the Priest for that congregation for the past two years. I applaud Ruth Binks for her passion and interest in the church! It is certainly true that her family are among our treasured pioneer ancestors who worked very hard to begin and to carry on the work of St. John’s. The loss of any beloved church is always very difficult for those who have been involved with it.

    It is however not the clergy of the deanery, nor the Bishop, nor the Diocese that have determined that St. John’s should be closed. Last June, our former Bishop Stephen Andrews did, after having been asked to do so by the Anglican people of Muskoka, put forth a list of 14 churches to be closed. St. John’s was not on that closure list, but in a category called ” Under Review”. For over five years, our congregation has struggled to grow, to be a blessing, to offer programs and donations to other local groups, and to maintain our beautiful building. We have not seen growth, sometimes held our own, but more often experienced decline in membership. On January 29th of this year, a Vestry meeting was held at St. John’s at which a motion for closure was supported by a 2/3rds majority of the members. That motion has been submitted to the Diocesan Executive Committee who will consider our request for closure, and may indeed have some other ideas which might support keeping the church open.

    It is also important to understand that the underlying challenge for us is not financial. If some benefactor were to offer thousands of dollars, we would still be looking at closing for the simple reason that we need not more money, but rather more people. Every effort has been made to attract people from the Ravenscliffe Community to our church; including community dinners, musical offerings on the deck, social events and historical celebrations. Nevertheless, only four people from Ravenscliffe attend our services; the rest all come from Huntsville, Aspdin or Bracebridge. And the ‘rest’ is a very small group….our services in this past year have averaged only 16 worshipers. There is a great deal of work to be done in managing the donations to a church with integrity, in maintaining and reporting to authorities involved with our cemetery, in event planning, groundskeeping, building maintenance, visiting those who are ill or need other helps, and in Christian education. Some local contractors help by donating their services. Even so, a small group has been doing this work for many years….they can’t continue to do it, and there are no newer or younger members to take on both the work load and the joy that serving brings with it.
    Ruth is absolutely right in saying that everyone is welcome at St. John’s! We are a very inclusive and spiritually safe place for seekers and those who may simply be curious about faith. Input is welcome from anyone at all. Decisions, however, are made by those who attend fairly regularly, who are baptized, at least sixteen years of age, and who have financially supported the church in the past year. We have two Wardens – one elected by all the people and one appointed by the Priest – a qualified treasurer, an envelope secretary who handles all the tax receipts, an exceptionally fine musician, two gifted and well-trained Lay Readers, and a Priest. Everyone donates their time, including the Priest….I offer twice the number of hours per week than the hours the church offers as my salary. We are all doing the very best we can. And at this time, that is not enough to keep us going. God has given us strength, sheer grit and determination to serve with all our hearts for many years. Our hearts are still strong and committed, but our bodies are getting older and just can’t put out the energy we need. That is why new members are so needed. And not just for what they can give…but also for what they can receive from us…excellence in worship, preaching and education and the love of a family of faith where we maintain the peace of fellowship. We’re a good bunch!
    I can say with absolute certainty that should a twenty new people take up their faith journey with us, attending worship and willing to help out when they can…..then we would vote to remain open, and advise the Executive committee of our new circumstances. No one WANTS to close such a fine facility with a proud history of helping people in all walks of life, in helping families, and in enriching life in community. Without growth, however, we simply can not manage.
    So… services are at 10am Sunday mornings! If you keenly want to see St. John’s stay open in Ravenscliffe, and are not already worshipping in another church, please come out and join in. We would be delighted to welcome you. The peace of God be with us all! – Rev. Judie Cooper

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