St Hilda’s Anglican Church: a History

The Parish of St. Hilda’s was “born” in 1959. The rectors of St. Aidan’s and Church of the Epiphany, together with Bishop Bagnall, felt the time had come to create a new parish in southwest Oakville. Thirteen local families formed the fledgling Body and the first official service for the new congregation was held at Appleby College Chapel on April 19, 1959 conducted by new Rector Borden Purcell.

Parishioners continued to worship at Appleby for several months. On Nov. 17, 1959 the parish gathered together in great rejoicing and thanksgiving to dedicate the parish hall building for a place of worship, fellowship and Christian education. As the neighbourhood grew, so too did the Sunday congregation. In the early 1960s as many as 600 people joined in worship each week. During these first 10 years St. Hilda’s was shepherded by 3 different rectors, Borden Purcell, Malcolm Evans and Peter Moore.

1970 was a year of great excitement. The congregation along with then-rector Robert Sinclair felt the time had come to build a proper chapel for worship. In a bold move the job of designing the interior of the new worship space was given to the students and staff of the Sheridan College of Design. Students not only determined the design elements such as the carpeted pews, steel altar table and cross lighting, they even helped in the actual construction of the interior. On the top of the building, the men of the parish placed the cross as a memorial. The unique worship area was dedicated on Nov. 17, 1970 exactly eleven years after the opening of the church hall.

Throughout the 1970s St. Hilda’s continued to thrive as a friendly Anglican parish with a full complement of activities: Anglican Church Women (ACW), men’s group, Sunday school, choir, rummage sales, dances and traditional worship services twice each Sunday morning. The huge numbers of the 1960s though, dropped in the 1970s as newer neighbourhood churches were built in Oakville and society’s observance of structured religion decreased.

Then, in 1980 the winds of change began to blow through St. Hilda’s. The rector at that time was Fr. Jack Bielby. Fr. Jack had come to St. Hilda’s in 1975 with his wife Lillian and four teen and pre-teen children. Unbeknownst to Fr. Jack, there was a small group of faithful parishioners who were praying for him and for the Body. They prayed for God to send His Holy Spirit to renew the hearts of the people. God heard their prayers.

Fr. Jack and his two wardens, Martin Jones and Ted Crabtree attended a “Life in the Spirit” course at a local Catholic church. There they began to experience something new and exciting. One by one each man was baptized by the Holy Spirit. Their lives and hearts were changed. Eager to share this with the people of St. Hilda, they began their own “Life in the Spirit” course. Moved by the Spirit, they also began a midweek Prayer & Praise evening. The modern worship songs, simple prayers and sharing drew people from near and far.

More changes followed. “Life in the Spirit” was replaced by “Saints Alive”, a similar program published by Anglican Renewal Ministries. The focus of “Saints Alive” was to lead participants to accept Jesus as Lord and Saviour and to receive the baptism of the Holy Spirit through the laying on of hands. With the completion of the first Saints Alive course came the formation of the first Housechurch or cell group. As more people took the Saints Alive course, more Housechurches were formed. It was Fr. Jack’s hope to see everyone involved in discipleship through these cell groups.

The Parish Council, once a traditional “business-focused” group, re-examined its role in the light of renewal. Following a trip to Bath, Ohio, the Parish Council was reconfigured to become a body of elders working to further God’s vision for St. Hilda’s under a principle of unanimity.

Change did not come, however, without cost. A significant number of parishioners disagreed with this direction. Many were uncomfortable with manifestations of such spiritual gifts as tongues and prophecy in the Sunday service. Some took their concerns to the Bishop. Still others chose to leave. Ironically, it was one such departure which opened the door for perhaps the greatest change to the Sunday service. In November 1984 St. Hilda’s organist quit and the choir disbanded. The decision was made not to replace either, but to introduce into the Sunday service, the modern worship music used at Prayer & Praise. The people became the choir and organ music was replaced by guitars and voices under the direction of David Jenkins. The Spirit began to move even more powerfully on Sunday mornings.

A passion for evangelism was reflected in the establishment of the Evangelism Explosion III Ministry. Trained teams of parishioners visited homes to share the Good News. Later, led by the music team, the congregation took out Make Way for the Cross and Make Way for Christmas (evangelistic pieces with music, dance and drama) to downtown Oakville and into local malls. The Body participated in the March For Jesus in both Toronto and Hamilton. Ministry teams were invited to other churches to share the message and teach others. The parish sponsored a conference featuring David Pytches and his team from England.

The desire for outreach led the members to sponsor refugees, establish a food bank and clothing centre, minister to troubled youth at Syl Apps and become involved in many other activities. Throughout this time God continued to meet financial needs through the tithes and offerings of the people.

In 1992, Fr. Jack informed the Parish Council of his intent to retire in 1994. After a two year search, the parochial committee introduced the parish to Pastor Paul Charbonneau from the Parish of Deux Montagnes in Quebec. Fr. Jack blessed the new rector and a new young family moved into the rectory.

Pastor Paul and his wife Joanne brought with them a deep love of the Lord and a strong commitment to His teachings. They felt a desire to reach out to the lost and broken. They had started a Housechurch in their former parish and welcomed this tradition at St. Hilda’s. Soon the EEIII program, having runs its natural life, was replaced by the Alpha course designed in England by Nicky Gumble. New people were being introduced to the Lord Jesus each year. The parish reached out to the Kerr Street Ministry, providing financial and spiritual support and continued the outreach to Syl Apps. New outreach opportunities arose both locally and internationally. Women of the church continued to provide leadership in the Diocese through the organization of the Niagara Aware conference each year. Demonstrating the love of the Lord Jesus led parishioners into the community in many unique ways including a growing outreach to seniors.

Pastor Paul led the congregation in a strong call to prayer. Prayer teams were added to the Sunday morning worship during communion time. The weekly Prayer & Praise evenings were re-established and the Intercessory Prayer group was revitalized. A campaign to involve the congregation in a 24/7 Prayer schedule was introduced.

The Body had long had a heart for youth and in 1998 the first Youth Pastor, Malcolm Leach was hired. Between them, Malcolm and Pastor Paul began a ministry to the local high school, establishing a presence with the students and staff. An idea to have a hot dog cookout on the lawn one day for passing students evolved into the Sanctuary ministry. Each Friday during the school year more than 100 students arrived at the church for free lunch, a safe spot to spend time, fun and fellowship and prayer. A grant from the Diocese will facilitate the expansion of this Ministry as it evolves. This desire for young people to understand and experience the love of God was also reflected in the St. Hilda’s Sunday School as a new, exciting KidsChurch program emerged.

In 2008, because of the increasing liberal drift in the Diocese of Niagara, St. Hilda’s voted unanimously to join the Anglican Network in Canada. After four years of court battles and negotiations, St. Hilda’s left the building on Rebecca Street and moved to Central Baptist Church 340 Rebecca Street Oakville, ON L6K 1K3 .

God teaches us that His Church does not consist of bricks and mortar. It is a people in covenant with Him to fulfil his god-given mission in the world. Therefore, in full agreement with the Psalmist in Psalm 127:1, “unless the Lord builds the house its builders will have toiled in vain”, let us faithfully look to “Christ Jesus the chief cornerstone who holds the whole building together and makes it grow into a holy temple dedicated to the Lord; in whom you also are built into it for a place where God lives through His Spirit..” (Eph.2:20-22)