Between 1796 and 1798, as the first settlers began arriving to settle on the escarpment in West Flamborough Township, members of the Methodist Episcopal Church were there to bring them spiritual comfort in the new life that they faced in Upper Canada.
At a Methodist Class Meeting held in "Flamberry" on 1 May 1802, the amount of £2 18s 1d was collected by the Class Leaders, but there is no mention in an early record book of a building, so the service was probably held in a home or barn, or even in a forest clearing. Six years later the little settlement at Rock Chapel was identified as one of the 'stations' on the Ancaster Circuit that the circuit riders visited on a regular schedule. The success of the early class leaders, such as Samuel Van Every and Daniel Morden, led to the appointment of a minister, Rev. William Case by the New York Conference of the Methodist Episcopal Church to Canada. He regularly rode as much as one hundred miles a week, as his territory of scattered settlements stretched around the western end of Lake Ontario - from Trafalgar Township in the east,through Nelson, Ancaster, Beverly, East and West Flamborough to Barton Township in the west.
On 24 June 1822, an acre of property for a church at Rock Chapel was purchased from Class Leader, Daniel Morden Jr. for the sum of £7 10s. Recognized as only the second Methodist church erected at the Head-of-the-Lake, it was almost certainly from the religious zeal of the little congregation and resulted in the name, "Methodist Mountain" being assigned to the area. The building that came to serve as the community's place of worship was erected on a ledge of solid rock jutting out from the brow of the escarpment and overlooking the Dundas Valley hence its name Rock Chapel. Built by members of the area who supplied the building materials and the labour, it was truly a collective effort. The two storey clapboard structure resembled a barn rather than a church in appearance. The unpainted cherry and walnut timbers were hand-hewn and probably prepared at the oldest sawmill in the township founded at Rock Chapel by Moses Morden in the first decade of the nineteenth century.
When the chapel was first built, the community viewed it as a Meeting House and for a number of years the building was used by small groups of Anglicans, Baptists and Presbyterians. Gradually the large number of adherents to the Methodist Episcopal Church resulted in it becoming recognized as only their denomination's place of worship. Several stories are associated with the early years and illustrate how strong-minded and zealous the little congregation had become. Circuit rider, Joseph Sawyer, twice failed to deliver his sermons because immediately he stood up and started preaching, the congregation also stood and began to continuously pray out loud, believing the service was ending and that they should never close one of their assemblies until everyone was blest. On his third visit, before the service commenced, Sawyer told the congregation that "he had come to preach to them and that he must have a hearing, but that when they were alone they might pray as they liked."
During the 1830s, the influx of settlers from England, who were almost entirely members of the Wesleyan Methodist Church, resulted in ownership of the chapel becoming a contentious issue. Members of both denominations claimed the chapel as their own. On one occasion, members of the two groups actually fought a 'battle' for control of the building. On the Sunday in question, when the Episcopal congregation was inside worshipping behind locked doors, the Wesleyans attempted to storm the chapel. They managed to raise the first storey windows from the outside and were preparing to climb inside when the Episcopalians realized what was happening. They immediately ceased their worship and prevented entry by "pounding every hand that appeared on the window sills or pricked them with knives until they were glad to let go."
By 1870, the wooden church had become out-dated and badly in need of repairs. During this decade, the various sects within the Methodist Church agreed to a union and the need for a larger church became apparent. In 1876, an acre of land for a new church, adjacent to the chapel's cemetery property near Highway #5 was donated by the Lyons family and later the same year, a new red brick church was erected on Rock Chapel Road.
As you walk up the short sidewalk to the front entrance of the church, you will notice two rocks with dates on them. The first dates the opening of The Old Rock Chapel Methodist Episcopal Church, a wooden two-story structure, built in 1822, which stood about 1/4 mi. from here along Rock Chapel Rd. The original church was built by early Methodist pioneers on land, purchased from Daniel Morden for 7 pounds and 10 shillings. There is a picture of this rather unimposing structure on the front of this brochure. After the old wooden church burned, the current brick structure was erected in 1876 and has been in constant use since then. The old wooden building was finally demolished in 1948. After you finish touring the church, travel south along Rock Chapel Rd. to the original site, which is marked with a historical plaque.
In the small foyer at the front entrance, you will notice three beautiful stained glass windows. Faithful members donated these windows, as all the stained glass windows in the church, during the mid 1980's. The two small rectangular windows in the foyer were designed and created by one of our local artists, Rosemary Brown, whose paintings you will see in the next room. Walking into the church once again, our eyes are drawn to the stained glass. Each window illustrates a familiar and well-loved Biblical theme. If you look carefully at the windows, you will notice some have a small picture symbol, which indicated a special interest of the donating family. For instance, in one window there is a lamp of learning. The donating family included a teacher. See how many little symbols you can find. Check the window profile for further information.
The pews in the sanctuary are original to the church. The floor, car
At the front of the sanctuary you will notice the baptismal font. This was created from the wood of the original church. There is a short history of the church on the font. Some of the early ministers are listed here. Of note is Egerton Ryerson, who played such an important role in the formation of our early educational system. He ministered to the congregation in 1828.
At the very front of the sanctuary are two beautiful oil lamps. These lamps also were from the original Methodist church.
A small pump organ is on display in the church...
Walk into the next room, which is referred to as the “Sunday School” room. The wooden wainscoting, the floors, the windows and wooden partitions are original to the church. Of note is the louvered pull down partitions, which were used to create mini rooms for differing age groups of Sunday school students. These partitions are stored away by rolling up into the wooden boxes above each one.
In the late 1950's, a new kitchen was added along with washrooms. Prior to that an outhouse was in use. The basement under the Sunday school room and kitchen was dug out from underneath the structure at this time. That would have been quite a feat!
Enjoy the displays here and then wander out to the cemetery. The adjacent cemetery contains graves of some of these early settlers.
Look around and imagine this little church the way it used to be, surrounded by peaceful farms and country roads.