Central United Church
An Abridged Church History

THE FOUNDATION

The Methodist roots as founded by John McDougall at the NWMP barracks in Fort Calgary during the mid-1870s are the foundation for this, the oldest United Church in Calgary. Some 30 years later, the current building was erected with Reverend George Kerby serving as the first minister at Central Methodist Church. His legacy lives on in Calgary as he was the founder of today’s Mount Royal University. Mrs. Kerby founded the YWCA in Calgary, Banff, Lake Louise and Field.

Reverend George and Mrs Kerby

The cornerstone was laid on May 12, 1904 by Mrs James Lougheed on behalf of her uncle, Lord Strathcona. The building was officially opened and dedicated on February 5, 1905 as a “conspicuous Tribute to Calgary’s Progressive Spirit”

During Kerby’s term, the church was often filled to the capacity of 1,200, leaning on every word of this great visionary. Calgary was booming in the pre-war era and between 1905 and 1910, this church spawned seven new churches!

DISASTER

On Leap Year Day in 1916, a massive fire following an explosion in the Boiler Room gutted the Sanctuary. 

The church continued to meet in nearby theatres until it was reopened in April 1917, complete with a new Casavant pipe organ, still in use today!

Central United Casavant Organ

WAR & DEPRESSION

During the Great War, 202 of our members served, 36 were killed including the three Broad brothers.

P. L. Newcombe put our music ministry “on the map”. Starting in 1925 (and serving until 1952), he provided continuity and stability as he served as Choir Director.

Central Methodist Choir 1920

In 1925, with the union of the Methodist, Presbyterian and Congregationalist churches, the name was changed to Central United Church.

Pre-depression times were certainly interesting as our church was striving to build a foundation that would last through the century. Key players included in our growth included notables such as: Sir James Lougheed, Senator; the Rt. Honourable R. B. Bennett, Prime Minister; F. E. Osborne and W. H. Cushing, both Mayors.

Crowd leaving after church circa 1905-1908

Along with the rest of society, we were in a holding pattern during the 1940s. We again stood proud as during World War II, 296 members and adherents served with 10 being killed.

SUNDAY SCHOOL

Bible Class with Mrs Kerby 1911
Central Teachers 1915
Win One Bible Class 1918
Tuxis Boys circa 1920-1939

Reverend Andy Lawson was well known for his speaking ability, serving us well from 1942-49. He was succeeded by Reverend Gerald Switzer who was at Central from 1950-1962 overseeing the expansion of our Sunday School to a record high of 771 in 1961!

POST WAR RECOVERY

During the post war period, many changes to the church accommodated the boom times including extra Sunday School space and the administrative wing. The Chapel was dedicated in 1952, followed a short time later in 1954 by the dedication of the William Holman Hunt “The Light of the World” triptych.

When Reverend Nelson Mercer arrived in 1962, he inherited the largest congregation of any United Church in the country at over 3,600 members but this boom time was on the wane.

SERVING THE CITY

Reverend Michael Ward is the longest serving minister having served 35 years at the time of his retirement in 2015. It was during his tenure that Central was a driving force in founding the Calgary Urban Project Society (CUPS) and Inn From the Cold, both agencies still providing needed resources to the disenfranchised in our downtown core.

Pastor Wayne Lewry, served 25 years prior to his 2017 retirement. He started the Celebrate Life Recovery Service on Sunday evenings. Based on the Alcoholic Anonymous 12 Steps program, this service provides spiritual nurturing to addicts. In addition, Central hosts over a dozen addiction recovery meetings weekly!

Located in the heart of the city for well over a century, through good times and lean years, we continue to do God’s will, by providing an active outreach for people on the fringe of society.

“In the heart of the City, a Church with the City in its heart”