Recent news that the St. Andrew’s United Church building will soon be on the real estate market has hit the community of Moose Jaw hard, as the building’s spectacular architecture and vibrant congregation have made it a beloved part of the city for over a century. 

The governing committee of St. Andrew’s has cautioned that it is too early for any details on how the United Church in Moose Jaw might change. Tim Ellis, the pastor at Zion United, assured the public that the congregations and the church itself will continue to exist and contribute in Moose Jaw

The story will continue to unfold, and as part of our coverage, Discover Moose Jaw News sat down with Lorne Calvert and Jim Tenford for a discussion of the building’s history and significance. 

Calvert was minister at Zion United Church in the ‘80s before entering politics. He was the MLA for Moose Jaw Wakamow, and went on to serve as leader of the provincial NDP and Saskatchewan’s 13th premier. 

Jim Tenford was the minister at St. Andrew’s from 2012 to 2022. He shepherded St. Andrew's through a period that saw the congregation work closely with the Moose Jaw Multicultural Society and become an Affirming congregation in 2017. Affirming means they are ‘radically inclusive’ of people of all sexual orientations and gender identities. 

St. Andrew’s remains the only church in Moose Jaw to hold that designation. 

You can listen to the full conversation on our Discover Moose Jaw News Podcast

Here are some highlights: 

Birth of the United Church of Canada in 1925

“Both the Methodist congregation in Moose Jaw and the Presbyterian congregation in Moose Jaw began not long after the arrival of the railroad,” Lorne Calvert explained. 

“As the city began to grow and more and more immigrants came through the homestead process, both of those denominations grew in Moose Jaw, and both occupied a variety of buildings throughout the city.” 

Eventually, in the 1910s, the Methodist’s built Zion, and the Presbyterians built St. Andrew’s — around the corner from each other. 

“Both churches then built the large buildings that serve them today and have served them over all these years,” Calvert continued. “In 1925, unique in Canada, the Methodist Church, the Presbyterian Church, at least the majority of the Presbyterian Church, and the Congregationalist Church came together. 

“So hence, we have two United Churches in this close proximity in downtown Moose Jaw. ... Both occupying large and rather architecturally significant buildings.” 

The fire of 1963

In 1963, St. Andrew’s United Church burned to the ground — and Lorne Calvert remembers it well. 

“I, like lots of Moose Jaw people, feel kinship to this building and this congregation of people, simply because of its prominence in our downtown,” he said. “And then I, like many Moose Jaw people, stood in awe and ... dread as we watched that original St. Andrew’s burn to the ground, with flames up into the sky on that December night. 

“The day I was able to walk back into this church after it had been rebuilt in the ‘60s, is a day I will remember because of the awesome nature of this sanctuary and the facility itself, and how it was re-engineered to really serve people, and serve the community.” 

Lydia Gruchy and becoming Affirming in 2017 

“Churches, in my opinion, are places that shouldn’t always shy away from making a stand, even when it is a little bit controversial,” Tenford said. 

Two examples that Tenford gave were Lydia Gruchy and the process of becoming an Affirming congregation. 

Lydia Gruchy was the first woman to enroll as a theological student at the Presbyterian Theological College in Saskatoon, graduating with honours in 1923. For the next 13 years, she and the various congregations she served attempted to have her ordained. 

They succeeded in 1936 — at St. Andrew’s in Moose Jaw. Gruchy was never given equal treatment as an ordained minister, but it was an important moment nonetheless. 

Lydia Gruchy's portrait, on the pastoral wall at St. Andrew's (photo by Gordon Edgar)

“I think it’s quite significant that this is a place that has pushed the envelope on what it is to be a church — not without controversy, of course. Moving towards justice is always a struggle,” Tenford said. 

Becoming an Affirming Congregation was another move toward justice, he noted, reminiscent of Gruchy’s story. Attempting to put Pride and Trans flags in a church, and declare that everyone is welcome, brought strong feelings of opposition from many. 

Additionally, churches cannot simply declare themselves Affirming — it is a process that takes time, effort, and the involvement and commitment of the entire congregation.

They received their designation in 2017. It was not a solo effort from the pastor, and the people of St. Andrew's have maintained their commitment ever since.

“If I can tell one small story that just choked me up when it happened,” Tenford added. “It was the day we were putting the big rainbow sign on the front of the building that says ‘You Are Welcome Here.’ 

“That’s right next to the playground for Moose Jaw Multicultural, and there was this one little boy who was playing there and he was just watching them with such interest. ... And when the sign finally went up and he could read what it said ... He looked at me and he said, ‘Does that mean I’m welcome here?’ 

“And I said, ‘Of course, it does. Of course, you’re welcome here. And he just smiled and ran off and told the daycare teachers, ‘I’m welcome here.’ This is setting such an incredible tone for a church, it was just... Even now, it just chokes me up to think about that.”