A century ago, the landscape of rural America was dotted with small churches of numerous denominations. There was nearly a church on every corner in the neighboring small towns back in the day.
But as the little 80-acre farms were swallowed up, the 10-children families became a thing of the past and scores of folks living in the small towns moved to the cities for better jobs, the number of houses of worship dwindled as well.
During the 1970s and 80s, many of the remaining small churches joined forces and shared a pastor in an effort to share the cost of hiring a full-time minister. Yoked parishes soon became the norm in rural areas. Some ministers were shared between two and even three congregations.
The yoked parishes worked for a while, but as more and more of the old faithful church goers passed away, membership rolls declined and churches closed their doors.
The pandemic of 2020 didn’t help matters either. When they were unable to attend church services in person, some of the Sunday regulars got out of the habit of going to church. When attendance restrictions were lifted, many had found other things to do on Sunday mornings.
There are very few small rural churches that are not sharing the cost of employing a pastor by themselves. One such church is the Presbyterian Church in Canton. While the name, “Canton-Scotland Presbyterian Church,” sounds like another yoked parish, The Presbyterian Church in Canton merged with Scotland Presbyterian (a small parish five miles north of Harmony) nearly 50 years ago. Although membership has dwindled to about 60 members, Canton-Scotland has continued to be an active part of the community.
The original wood-framed structure was completed in 1885. In 1928, a basement, complete with a kitchen, a restroom and dining area was added. In 1958, the inspiring stained-glass windows depicting the life of Christ were installed. An expansion project in the early 1990s included additional sanctuary seating and a pastor’s office on the main floor, a new entry way and elevator, and the dining area was expanded, men’s and women’s restrooms and two Sunday school classrooms were also added all in the lower level.
While it has been a challenge for the church to continue filling the pulpit, the Canton church is blessed to have Rev. Kate Rupert as its pastor. Pastor Kate serves the church on a part-time basis and provides for its members in a very positive way.
When asked about their pastor and why they enjoy attending Canton-Scotland Presbyterian Church, here is what some of the members had to say:
“Pastor Kate relates the Bible to our every day lives. She gives us a positive and meaningful message to start the week. She also challenges us and gives us something to think about,” said Kirsten Wyffels.
“Pastor Kate’s sermons are informative, up lifting, thought provoking, reassuring, easy to understand and provide a positive message,” observed Jane Hall.
“I like the Presbyterian service because it is easy to follow. We have friendly people. Pastor Kate provides us with great sermons and she brings the scripture into everyday life,” noted Bette Masters.
“Our church is an easy place to belong, it adds a spiritual dimension to our lives. It reminds me that our faith depends upon divine Grace, ‘unmerited favor,’” said LeRoy Haynes. “Rev. Rupert’s sermons are theologically faithful, and so interesting when she incorporates personal experiences, modern illustrations and literary examples. It is clear that she seriously plans and prepares what she has to say in her sermons,” Haynes added.
Several years ago when the pandemic restricted indoor gatherings, Canton-Scotland had Sunday morning worship on the lawn. Initially, the outdoor services were musical events where members of the church performed the old time church favorites. As interest in the outdoor services grew, short sermons and sing-alongs were added. The Canton church still holds at least one outdoor service each summer. This year it is scheduled for Sunday, June 25, at 10 a.m.
Another event the Canton church holds (twice) each summer is Sunday morning service at the rustic Scotland Church located in the rolling hills north of Harmony. The services this year will be July 23 and Aug. 27.
“Canton-Scotland is a welcoming church that offers grace, love and support for anyone who is looking for a church,” said Rev. Rupert. “There’s no need to be anyone other than who you are at this church. I would hope that anyone would feel like they could come to church and not worry if they weren’t sure what to wear or say or do.”
The Canton-Presbyterian Church is located at 104 Fillmore Ave. Sunday morning services begin at 10 a.m. For more information, contact Church Secretary Linda Turner at firstname.lastname@example.org.