Two Sarnia congregations will officially amalgamate to become the new Dunlop Central United Church on June 27.
“It’s a tremendous opportunity for us to learn and grow,” says Rev. Adam Kilner, leader of the new church that involves about 100 members from Dunlop United Church and another 30 from the shuttered Central United Church.
Amalgamation talks began late last year when Central United closed its doors and the 140-year-old building at 220 George St. was sold.
“We invited all local united church congregations to tell us what they are all about and we found our goals and activities could fit with any of them,” said Wayne Caslick, a member of Central’s amalgamation committee.
A survey found Central’s congregation slightly favoured merging with Dunlop United because of its accessibility and pre-existing friendships among people from the two churches.
A decision was made early on that Central wouldn’t buy or rent another location because of financial challenges and its older demographic, Caslick said.
At the same time, Dunlop United wholeheartedly welcomed the amalgamation, said Rev. Kilner.
“It’s extremely challenging to amalgamate two churches in the middle of a pandemic,” he said. “I credit the members of both churches who sit on the committee and have done tremendous amounts of work.”
A decision was made to close Dunlop United as well and form a new church to be known as Dunlop Central and use the Dunlop Church at 757 Rosedale Ave. for worship.
Though a church is its members and not the building, a number of items from Central have moved to Dunlop, including the communion table, baptismal font and artwork.
“Central has been nesting with Dunlop since December, which means we’ve been worshipping together mostly on Zoom,” said Paddy Roach, a member of the amalgamation committee from Dunlop.
“But we’ve been able to open up for a few in-person services and find we get along extremely well.
“There won’t be a clash of styles,” he said.
The new Dunlop Central intends to become an “affirming church,” to promote inclusivity by welcoming racial minorities, people from different cultural backgrounds and the LGBTQ+ community.
Grace United is currently the only affirming United church in Sarnia.
“For us, it’s a grassroots idea that promotes social justice and does not come from the top down, but rather the bottom up,” said Roach. “It will take at least another year to work through the process but we have members who are very passionate about it.”
Rev. Kilner said the focus on inclusivity might include sermons on interculturalism, reflections on how to honour various backgrounds in committee meetings, and flying a pride or transgender flag in the church.
“It even impacts the type of songs we sing because we’ll steer away from music that is overly male dominant,” he said. “The Good Book itself repeatedly describes God as a spirit, and is not necessarily gender specific.”
By pooling resources from the two churches, members intend to mount a ministry with real meaning, added Caslick.
“If Central had shut down instead of amalgamate, we couldn’t do that. We have people who are housebound or in nursing homes and they would have been abandoned.
“Instead, we have a very co-operative arrangement and it looks like it will be very successful.”