News has broken that the St. Andrew’s congregation will put their cathedral-like building on sale, prompting questions in the community about the future of the United Church in Moose Jaw, but reverend Tim Ellis said no one should be concerned on that front. 

So, with both the Minto United Church and the St. Andrew’s buildings on sale, what do the next few years hold? 

“Well, that is the big question, there’s no doubt,” Ellis acknowledged. “I can’t speak for the individual congregations other than Zion, but overall, for the community, it’s one of those times where a confluence of many things, globally, nationally, and locally have us all looking at, and perhaps struggling a bit, with being able to be sustainable going forward.” 

Ellis is now the only official ordained United Church minister in Moose Jaw. He is the minister at Zion United Church, another tremendous building just around the corner from St. Andrew’s. 

The other United Church congregations in the city are currently self-organized. Members have come together in governing committees to maintain services, including taking turns with sermons, in the fashion of a lay ministry.  

Each individual committee has charge over their congregation and its associated infrastructure. That means the decision to put St. Andrew’s on the real estate market rests solely with those currently taking care of it — although that is not to say the decision was made in haste or without a lot of consultation and discussion. 

“As you’re probably well aware, numbers of people attending religious communities, in North America at least, have been dropping steadily since the 1960s, and we have an abundance of United Church buildings here in Moose Jaw,” Ellis explained. 

“That came about primarily because Zion started as a Methodist Church, and St. Andrew’s started as a Presbyterian Church, and that was before the United Church was formed in 1925. ... And so, here we have these two very large churches around the corner from each other.” 

Ellis said that most church congregations, particularly from the more traditional denominations, have had to face questions on the sustainability of maintaining beloved, historic, oversized, aging structures. It’s possible to view the situation as bleak, given the reality that there simply aren’t enough attendees anymore to have four separate United Churches in Moose Jaw. 

However, he cautioned, that does not mean the congregations themselves are not still strong, vibrant, and hopeful for the future. 

“Here at Zion, there’s quite a bit of excitement moving forward, as we have a group here looking at guiding the process to becoming a more permanent, sustainable presence in the community. 

“In the other churches, Minto and St. Andrew’s, there’s a lot of talk around collaboration and things that we may be able to do going ahead, working with each other, coming together.” 

There is ‘definitely a need and a will’ to continue as a United Church, Ellis said, but it is just too early for now to make definitive statements about topics like amalgamation — no such formal discussions have even happened, yet. 

Ellis also has nothing but praise for how the governing committees at the other locations have handled matters. 

“It is to be admired, I mean, Minto, it’s been a year and a half since they’ve had ministry personnel, just about. And St. Andrew’s is going on two years this fall since Jim Tenford left. And they have managed quite well to provide Sunday services. 

“I think it’s a major testament to their commitment and passion for the church. It’s not an easy task and it takes a large number of people in the governing body and beyond to make that happen, so I definitely think they earn their kudos, and their congregations are blessed.” 

Discover Moose Jaw will continue coverage of this story. Stay tuned for our upcoming podcast on the history and significance of the St. Andrew’s building, featuring Lorne Calvert, former Sask premier and before that the minister at Zion United, and Jim Tenford, who was minister at St. Andrew’s from 2012-2022.