MERLIN UNITED CHURCH
The Methodists organized the first “circuit” for this area in 1826, stretching from Amherstburg to Ridgetown. The pioneers were served by “Saddle Bag” preachers who travelled on horse back and were known as “Circuit Riders“. They visited the homes and performed baptisms and marriages along the way. Sunday services for the community were held in people’s homes.
Eventually the faithful few in this area decided that it was time that they had a meeting house so that all could attend. In 1870 Bethel Methodist Church was built in Smith’s Corners (now Merlin). It was a frame box-shaped building, costing $500, erected at the eastern side of the present cemetery. Squire Foxton donated the land for the church.
On a cold winter morning in January 1898, it was decided that something had to be done to make the place more comfortable. Some were not in favour of spending money on repairs and suggested that a new building be considered. It seemed like a dream. However, Edward Randall, who was in charge of the service that morning, made the offer that if a fine church, costing not less than $4,000 were built, he would start off with a subscription (pledge) of $200.
With a start like that, most began to realize that maybe a nice new church would be possible after all. A canvass was made and at the end of two weeks it was found that $3,225 had been subscribed. Everyone who had subscribed $75 or more was on the building committee. When the tenders were received (February 20), the committee members were equally divided between one for $3,800 and one for $4,500. However, the Ladies’ Aid strongly approved the more expensive building, and by subscribing $300, placed four of their officers on the committee. Thus the decision was made.
Mr. George Chalmers Marshall donated his old mill site so the way was clear to go ahead. On July 1, 1898 the Corner Stones were laid and the building was completed in November. On November 21st the doors of Merlin Methodist Church were officially opened for the service of dedication. There was still a debt of $500 which was paid off by the first anniversary.
In 1901 Victoria Methodist Church (Baddertown) closed and the members went three ways — Merlin, Wesley and Glenwood.
At Church Union in 1925 this became known as Merlin United Church. Wesley (Port Crewe) and Fletcher were also on the Pastoral Charge with the minister living in Merlin. In 1964, with memberships dwindling and costs increasing, Wesley and Glenwood churches closed and the members joined with Merlin. Since then Merlin-Fletcher has been a two-point charge.
In addition to the Sunday worship services and church activities, many concerts and community events have been held in the church.
Improvements and repairs were constantly carried on to further add to the beauty of the church, as well as for comfort and convenience. For many years there was a desire to make the church handicapped accessible. Several options were investigated. The design of the building meant that a ramp was not feasible. It seemed that the only practical solution was an addition, housing an elevator and upgraded washrooms.
Before proceeding with the project, an engineer was hired to examine the building and make his recommendations. His examination showed that the present church building was unsafe so he condemned it immediately. This was a terrible blow to the congregation who had mixed feelings as to how to proceed.
The last worship service was held on Sunday, September 10, 2000. After that, we used the Fletcher United Church, with that congregation holding their service at 9:30 a.m. followed by the Merlin service at 11:00 a.m. each Sunday morning. We owe them a big Thank You for their willingness to share with us.
Fundraising began in earnest to raise money to build a new church. Thanks to the generosity of members, friends, community and neighbouring churches, the Building Fund continued to grow. After many obstacles, ups and downs, plans were made to construct a new church on the same property, 100 Aberdeen Street. At their meeting on May 10, 2004 Chatham-Kent Council gave approval for construction of a new 4,000 square foot church.
Many of the stained glass windows, lights and furnishings were saved to be used in the new building. On June 26, 2004 an Auction Sale was held to dispose of the surplus items. Demolition began on July 19th and on the 21st the building came tumbling down, reduced to a pile of rubble. When it was hauled away we were left with nothing but a hole in the ground.
As soon as the demolition crew had left, the building contractors began the excavation in preparation for the new building. When the groundbreaking ceremony was held on Aug 15th, the foundation had already been poured and the cement floor was completed the following day.
Then the building started to take shape as walls and roof trusses began to appear in place. Windows, bricks and trim soon made it look like the building that had been anticipated.
The first worship service was held on November 21st, 2004 which was the 106th Anniversary of the first church service in the Merlin Methodist Church in 1898. We were back home again!! On January 2, 2005 the sanctuary was filled with members, friends, dignitaries and guests for the Dedication Service. A social hour followed.
With a great sense of accomplishment and pride, a Mortgage Free Ceremony was held on August 8, 2010.