It's always a sad time when an iconic building in a community closes its doors, especially when its a church.  

Tilston resident, Donna Anderson, recently sent CJRB-Discover Westman the following article on the history of the century-old church that was once bustling with baptisms, weddings and community events!

"In the early years the church was very important," shares Anderson, "but in the last 15 or 20 years, not so much as it used to be. Actually, ever since Covid hit the church hasn't had as much to do with the community."

Anderson says, the dwindling numbers of activities and congregates is just another sign of the times.

"For instance, there's been no weddings, receptions or funerals in the church for about 3 years or longer," she says.  "Funerals can now be held at the graveside and a lot of the weddings are now being held outdoors or in larger facilities."

"But now we're people-poor and with only 6 or 7 people you can't really operate a facility with those numbers, but the number in our community is dwindling as well," she adds.  "Lots of people have moved away, and many staunch supporters have passed away, things like that."

Anderson says the building is for sale by tender and says the building can be repurposed by anyone who has dreams of bringing it back to life.  "We'd love to see someone come in and do something with it or move it away to be made into a studio somewhere or something like that."

However, before that sale and should the building be moved off the property, the church board and congregation will be holding their final Sunday service on April 14th at the church.  "If it's sold by that time or after that, at least we had our one final event there," says Anderson. "The Sunday service will be at 2 o'clock and we're just going to gather together and reminisce and worship together as a community."  

"And," she adds, "we'd like to invite everyone to come out and help us say goodbye to our wonderful old church!"

Here is the rich history of the Tilston United Church ~ written by Donna Anderson

When the town of Tilston was very young, there was no building for a church, and so in 1910 since there was a two storey school, and the upper room not being used, the people began having church in this upper room. Church before this was being held in the hardware store.

In October 1921 the Tilston Ladies Aid decided to build a church. The Ladies Aid paid the first down payment of $67.00, this being one third of the price of the land. They also donated $25 to buy the blueprints for the church. 

By April they had the lot paid for. The total amount was between two and three hundred dollars.

In July 1923 a Tilston resident, Lorna Graham lent the Ladies Aid $150 at four percent interest to help make up the five hundred dollars needed to give the treasurer for the building fund, so he could begin work on the church. The Ladies Aid continued to raise money for a church and in 1923-24 their plans began to take shape!

The Tilston United Church has been a long-standing building in our community, in fact, for a hundred years.

Way back in 1924 the present standing building was being built as the Tilston Union Church. The opening service of dedication was Sunday, June 29, 1924, conducted by Rev. A.E. Smith of Melita at 11:00 a.m. Later in the evening Rev. Johnson of Lauder conducted another service. About 300 people with visitors from Reston, Pierson, Melita and Broomhill were present.

On Monday evening the Ladies Aid served a supper in the basement and a program followed. It certainly was well celebrated!

An article in the July 10, 1924, Reston Recorder newspaper read “The building is a fine commodious one along the simple mission lines of architecture with full size basement. The woodwork and pews being done in soft brown tones and outside in cream and brown. Approximate cost $9,000 and the people are to be congratulated on having only about $2,000 owing on the structure.

In the early years, the area was served by either a Presbyterian or Methodist minister, but in 1925 it became Tilston United Church. There were suppers, meetings, etc. held out of the basement, but in 1927 the interior was further completed, to more ably host meals, etc. In these years after the supper was over a program of entertainment followed on the main floor.

In 1960 the basement was renovated with a good deal of carpentry being done by Roy Davies. Even in the 1970’s the annual church fowl supper was held in the basement, plus lunches following funerals. It was a thriving entity. Sunday School enrolment was good, a C.G.I.T. club was active, a boys Cubs club had a good attendance, the church had an active choir, thus the church played an active role throughout the community.

Other organizations still supporting the church were the Ladies Aid and later the United Church Women (UCW). Times were good!

Somewhere, somehow, the Tilston community began to shrink, businesses were closing, people were moving elsewhere for jobs, etc. To cut costs services were held only once per month, the first Sunday of each month, with no services in July, August and September. Corners were cut as much as we could.

The Catering Committee was still active and served lunches at funerals in the Tilston Hall plus catered to many wedding and anniversary suppers and we had annual fowl suppers in the hall up until Covid hit in 2020. The fowl suppers included the entire congregation. The last Fowl Supper was Sunday, October 6, 2019, with an attendance of only 230 people.

We had been accustomed to a little over 300. Again, this was due to our older population dwindling, harvests lasting longer into the fall and young people not being as interested in attending. Also our community itself was dwindling in numbers and we had a harder time getting workers and people to supply food. It has been said that when hard times fall, the school closes first, then the elevators and then the church. This was almost true for Tilston.

The elevators closed in 1977 due to a washed-out bridge on the main line, the school closed in June 1987 due to very low attendance and now at the end of June 2023, the United Church closed.

A few years ago, it became apparent that the church was really struggling to support itself. Attendance was severely low, no Sunday School. No one was having baptisms, weddings or funerals out of the church. It had lost its usefulness for the community. The only service that was supported a little more was the Christmas Service which we usually held on the evening of December 23rd. But even with outside annual donations this one service could not bring in enough funds to keep the church going for the entire year.

The church was running on bare bones budget, the church itself had not seen many repairs since the late 1970’s and early 1980’s and we are also “people poor”. And so it was that in February of 2023 the Tilston United Church Board held a Congregational Meeting to discuss and start the process of Disbanding.

The last service was Sunday, June 5, 2023, with just our usual small attendance. Now the church and the property are for sale. It seems sad, but at the same time, our community has gotten so small. The only viable building in town is the Tilston Community Hall, for now anyways. It’s years are numbered as well.