Robert Revington and his mother, Kate, shared a love of history.
To celebrate a significant milestone for her family’s place of worship in 2003, Mrs. Revington penned a play drawing on first-hand accounts of the early years of St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Church at Mosley and Victoria Streets.
Now, as the church marks its 150th anniversary last month, it was Robert’s turn to share the story, and what was left behind by Kate following her passing last year, gave him the building blocks he needed to tell the story of St. Andrew’s Presbyterian in a new way for new audiences.
Mr. Revington, a PHD student in history at the University of Toronto, was at the church on Saturday evening to see the fruits of his labour – a labour of love shared with the Aurora Museum & Archives and St. Andrew’s itself – come to life with a special service marking not only the anniversary itself but the launch of a new online exhibition marking the occasion.
“Close to a year ago, I emailed some of the elders in the church and asked what they were planning to do for the Church’s 150th anniversary – I guess it is dangerous to ask questions like that because they asked me to be in charge of it!” Robert joked ahead of the service.
The St. Andrew’s congregation first found a home in Aurora’s historic downtown core in 1871, but it wasn’t until 1873 that a purpose-built church was constructed at Mosley and Victoria. Plans for the current building began in 1960.
The exhibition draws on primary documents in the Church and Museum archives, including interviews with prominent church leaders and congregants over the years, including those of Reta Rank, a life-long member of the congregation who recorded her memories as a senior ahead of her death in 2005 at the grand age of 99, and more recent memories from the families of more recent church leaders, such as paster Homer McAvoy, a former Aurora Citizen of the Year.
“It was very interesting to get stories from people, specific people from the church’s history,” says Robert. “We moved to Aurora in 1996 when I was five and in 2003 there was a play in the church’s history written by my mom, Kate, and that was a valuable source. This exhibit is kind of a way to honour her achievements as relate to that and all the contributions she made to the church’s history.
“She was a book editor by trade, but had a theatre background. A lot of the source research she did in the dialogue of the play, I would be reading over the text and thinking, ‘This is a really good quote. Where did she get it from?’ and I tried to find the original source material. This church has really been around for a long time and has a rich history, and a lot of interesting people who passed along stories have been a part of this.”
Through his own research, Revington re-discovered a vibrant church community, one that has ebbed and flowed like most local church communities with each successive decade. He found a church that has been engaged with the community when the occasion called for it.
Martha’s Table, a weekly meal program now under the Welcoming Arms umbrella, is one way in which St. Andrew’s remains an engaged and vital part of the community, but Revington hopes the exhibition and the anniversary year will be a reminder of what once was, what recently was, and what the future could be.
“The church is maybe a bit smaller than it used to be, but it has had its ups and downs throughout its history. In the 1920s and 30s, it wasn’t doing so well and I think people realize there have been times when the church has been very vibrant and growing. Even when it hasn’t been able to do that, it found ways to keep going and hopefully it will start going in a different direction soon.
“When I look at the history of the 1960s and 1970s, there were a lot of youth organizations affiliated with it, but that is not so much the case now. There is a long affiliation with the Scouts, but that has kind of slipped away in recent years, and I think it would be great if the church could have more things going on for youth in the community. COVID has made that harder, but we have staff people who focus on youth and that is certainly something we would like to emphasize.”
To explore the online exhibition, visit auroramuseum.ca/standrewspresbyterianchurchintro.
“Aurora Museum & Archives mission is to collect, preserve and share the stories of Aurora with its community,” says Robin McDougall, Director of Community Services for the Town of Aurora. “The Town’s built heritage is a strong component of that story. For the 150th Anniversary of St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Church, the Museum has partnered with Robert Revington and the church to create an online exhibition that explores just some of the church’s fascinating history. We hope this exhibition can connect built heritage and the church’s congregation with the larger Auroran community and celebrate a significant building in Aurora’s history. The museum staff has worked diligently to offer this significant and historic exhibition to our residents.”
Brock Weir, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Auroran