Hard times loom for east Toronto church

As Toronto neighbourhoods evolve and draw in new blood, generally that change is seen as a good thing, but not all change is positive.

Leslieville has been in a state of transition over the past few years, becoming much trendier in recent times. Each month, more specialty shops and restaurants appear, popping up to replace run-down old storefronts.

Amidst the gentrification, at the corner of Queen Street East and Carlaw Avenue, stands the oldest Presbyterian Church in Toronto east of the Don River. It is quaint but grand, and has been a major part of the scenery for over 132 years. Unfortunately, it may be forced to close its doors for good next year.

Built as the Leslieville Presbyterian Church in November of 1877, the congregation began to worship there in July of 1878. In 1895, the congregation voted to rename the church Queen Street East Presbyterian Church.

The Reverend Robert Faris, Executive Director for The Churches’ Council On Theology Education in Canada and interim moderator for the church, is proud of the history but knows the church isn’t keeping up well with the times.

“With the way the neighbourhood has been evolving, how do you draw the community in now?” he said. “It’s changed so much, families don’t come in like they used to. I don’t think it’s that they aren’t in the area, they just don’t come into the church like they used to.”

The lack of attendance shows, as the pews sat three-quarters empty Sunday, Oct. 18.

“A large part of our congregation is elderly. Most of the people who come to this church have been coming since the church was really popular, in the 60s or 70s,” Rev. Faris said. “We’ve got a few younger people who started coming lately, but I don’t know if they’re from the community or not.”

It is hard to see why it’s so empty, with a very relaxed service and a complimentary tea and pastries afterwards, the group is very welcoming and close knit.

“I’ve been there about 25 years,” 88-year-old Elsie Skura said. She was an elder at the church for seven of those years, “until my knees got bad, and I didn’t want them giving out on me.”

And although the congregation is close, Skura doesn’t think it would be able to survive the church closing.

“It would split and go different places, I think,” Skura said. “Because some of the people we have came from the United Church that’s just over the next block. That’s what’ happened to them; (their church closed.)”

Skura doesn’t want to have to change her place of worship after so many years, but she’s had to do it before.

“I went to St. Johns in the summer, but I didn’t particularly like it (the church) that much, but then because you’re not used to it… It doesn’t have all of the glass windows like we have.”

If you would like to contact the Queen Street East Presbyterian Church, you can reach the church’s voicemail at (416) 465-1143 or stop by the church, located at 947 Queen St. E., at the corner of Queen Street and Carlaw Avenue.