This frieze is the tanglewood above the main church entrance on St. Catherine St.
Photo by T. E. Smith-Lamothe
The United Church of Canada is the largest Protestant denomination in Canada. We minister to close to three million people in over 3,500 congregations across the country, more than 60 of them in the Montreal area. Ours is a rich history closely entwined with the development of Canada itself.
The United Church was inaugurated on June 10, 1925 in Toronto, Ontario, when the Methodist Church, Canada, the Congregational Union of Canada, and 70 per cent of the Presbyterian Church in Canada entered into an organic union. Joining as well was the small General Council of Union Churches, centred largely in Western Canada.
It was the first union of churches in the world to cross historical denominational lines and hence received international acclaim. Impetus for the union arose out of the concerns for serving the vast Canadian northwest and in the desire for better overseas mission. Each of the uniting churches, however, had a long history prior to 1925.
The crest is the official signature of The United Church of Canada, placed on legal documents, ordination and commissioning certificates, and licences to perform the sacraments. Designed by the Rev. Dr. Victor T. Mooney (a treasurer of the United Church), it was officially adopted in 1944 by the 11th General Council.
For our church members, this insignia is a spiritual and historic reminder. Its oval shape is derived from the outline of a fish, a symbol of identity by early Christians. The initials of the words “Jesus Christ, Son of God, Saviour” spell the Greek word for fish.
The “X” at the centre, the first letter of the Greek word for Christ, is a traditional symbol for Christ. In the four corners of the crest are symbols, three of which are particularly associated with the three communions—Congregational, Methodist, and Presbyterian—that united to form The United Church of Canada in 1925.
- The open Bible represents the Congregational Churches with their emphasis upon God’s truth that makes people free. From this communion we have a heritage of liberty in prophesying, love of spiritual freedom, awareness of the creative power of the Holy Spirit, and clear witness for civic justice.
- The dove is emblematic of the Holy Spirit (Mark 1:10) whose transforming power has been a distinctive mark of Methodism. Here our heritage is one of evangelical zeal, concern for human redemption, warmth of Christian fellowship, the testimony of spiritual experience, and the ministry of sacred song.
- The burning bush is the symbol of Presbyterianism. It refers to the bush that burned and was not consumed (Exodus 3:2), and symbolizes the indestructibility of the church. From Presbyterianism we have received a heritage of high regard for the dignity in worship, the education of all people, the authority of scripture, and the church as the Body of Christ.
- The symbols alpha and omega in the lower quarter are the first and last letters of the Greek alphabet. They symbolize the eternal living God, in the fullness of creation (Revelation 1:8).
The Latin words ut omnes unum sint that surround the symbols on the crest mean That all may be one and are taken from John 17:21. They are a reminder that we are both a “united” and “uniting” church.
In August 2012, the Mohawk phrase “Akwe Nia’Tetewá:neren” (“All my relations”) was added to the perimeter ribbon, and the background colours of the four quadrants of the crest were changed to reflect the traditional colours of the First Nations medicine wheel.
Text from United Church of Canada site.
St. James United Church is a national historic site of Canada and a Quebec religious heritage building.
It traces its beginning to the seven members of Montreal’s first Methodist congregation who first came together as a church in 1803. The Methodists began as a reform movement within the Anglican Church.
The present building is the congregation’s fourth home. It was built between 1887 and 1889 after the congregation decided to move uptown from St. James Street, hence the name. At the time of construction, it was the largest Methodist church in Canada with seating for more than 2,000.
In 1925, the Methodists, Congregationalists and a majority of the nation’s Presbyterians came together to form the United Church of Canada and the congregation became St. James United Church. The United Church is Canada’s largest Protestant denomination.
The exterior of the church is a Victorian neo-gothic image of a medieval French cathedral. The interior is designed in “the Akron auditorium plan” popular with North American Presbyterians, Baptists and Methodists in the late 19th century but unique in Montreal. For more information go to www.timferris.net/the-akron-plan/ or www.sacredplaces.org Central to the sanctuary are the pulpit and communion table which are located directly in front of the choir loft.
The church has excellent acoustics and is used for concerts throughout the year. Music has always played an important role in the life of the congregation. Singers like Maureen Forrester and Karina Gauvin began their careers here as soloists with the choir. The church is also home to the award-winning Peoples Gospel choir which frequently participates in worship.
The Methodists had a tradition of community involvement. Members of the congregation fought against slavery in the British Empire and in the United States. The very popular abolitionist Harriett Beecher Stowe spoke from a pulpit now located in the church hall. St. James people helped start the first YMCA in North America and actively campaigned for the vote for women in the early 20 th century.
The United Church continued the outreach tradition. Rev. Lloyd C. Douglas, author of best-selling novels like The Robe and Magnificent Obsession, was a minister here and broadcast from the pulpit. The church sheltered soldiers en route to Europe in two world wars and in September 2001, the province of Quebec chose St. James as the site for its official memorial service for the attack on the World Trade Center in New York City.
We also have a memorial in our sanctuary to Canadian soldiers killed in Afghanistan, which is described in this article published in the United Church Observer.
The congregation and its partners host a variety of outreach programs for the homeless, the elderly and the urban poor. It also offers a home to several community organizations and musical ensembles.
In 1926, commercial buildings were erected in front of the church on a “temporary” basis to provide the congregation with income. Having served their purpose, the buildings were finally demolished in 2006 and St. James is again open to the busy street-life in the heart of Montreal.
To get a feeling of the church when the walls came tumbling down, read this article in the United Church Observer.
For pictures before, during and after the demolition of the commercial buildings and restoration of the front of the church, please see our virtual museum.
For more about the history of St. James, please see this PDF file titled The living
heritage of St. James United Church.
And we are still finding out more about our past. Click here to find out more about two of the stained glass windows in our sanctuary.