In the turmoil of today’s frenetic world, it’s comforting to know there are still places where time seemingly stands still, and serenity continues to reign supreme.
Remarkably, one of those idyllic venues is not far from here.
The Dawn Township Historical Society recently held its annual meeting and pot-luck supper in the St. John’s-In- the-Woods Anglican Church
Hall, located in the historic – not to mention bucolic- settlement of Aughrim, a peaceful enclave hidden in the undulating back roads of the South Lambton municipality of Dawn-Euphemia.
In addition to the
annual pot-luck dinner, events of the day included a narrated tour of the historic St. Johns-In-The-Woods Church and Cemetery as well as a ride through the pastoral countryside of south-eastern Dawn-Euphemia on a wagon pulled by a good-natured and obliging
team of mules.
Earl Morewood, a church warden and life-long resident of the area, welcomed the group and provided a narrated tour of the church and cemetery as well as a brief history of the church and settlement.
He noted that American fugitive slaves were among the first settlers to the area in the early 1800s.
“It was considered a Black community at one time and there is still a
cemetery down the road where many of those early inhabitants are buried,” he said.
They were followed by a wave of European immigrants, primarily Irish Protestants, who came to the area and established the
settlement of Aughrim, which was named after a Village in Ireland.
He noted that at one time, the settlement could boast several stores, a blacksmith shop, woodworking shop and an undertaker.
However, all that remains today is the St. John’s-In-The-Woods Anglican Church and hall, the hall being the community’s former school house.
He noted that the founding families
consisted of names such as Bell, Wall, Brownlee, MaCauley, Hands, Armstrong, McAlpine and Cox, most of which are buried in the adjoining cemetery and many of their descendants still live in the area.
aspect of the cemetery is that you will see some of the largest and most ornate tombstones anywhere.
Morewood said many of them were placed there by families to honour the community’s founding members, but
in most cases many years after their death. He had no explanation as to why mostly farming families would go to such extravagance.
“These weren’t wealthy families, in fact, like most farmers of that
era. most of them had very little money,” he said.
While the original church was of frame construction built on donated land in 1846, Morewood noted that it was replaced by the present brick edifice in 1898.
Built in the Gothic Revival style, the quaint building is renowned for its beautiful stained glass windows and original wooden pews.
“We currently have about 15 families that
attend regularly and we are all very proud of it,” he said, adding that everyone has their own particular seat as was a long-held custom in many rural churches.
“It’s hard to keep a church open
today with just 15 families if you are paying for a priest,” he said.
“It’s been a problem for small rural churches everywhere.”
As a consequence,
he said about 10 years ago the congregation joined five other churches in the area and now share two priests, one full-time and the other semi-retired.
He added that several lay preachers, such as himself, also fill
in when needed.
“It’s really worked out well for us,” he said.
“We are six churches but one parish and that one parish controls the finances,
hires the priests and so on – it allows us to keep our small church open.”
He noted that the church has always been the focal point of the community and continues to be.
“When we need something it just seems to get donated by someone in the community,” he said.
He noted that the building doesn’t has never had running water or a bathroom and they turn the
heat on about 10 p.m. on Saturday evenings and turn it off following the Sunday service to save money.
“We run it very frugally, we have to,” he added.
noted that to this day they have never locked the doors to the sanctuary, and simply prop a large rock up against the door to keep it closed.
Anyone wanting to visit the church for a quiet time of prayer or reflection
an do so.
“Back in 1972 someone came in and stole all the brass,” he said, adding, however, that within a few days the culprits, whoever they were, returned it all and set it up again.
“We don’t know if the police got after them or if they just had an attack of guilt, but they brought it all back,” he said.
Morewood noted that during the 9/11 crisis in
the U.S. many people came there in search of a quiet place to pray and says he understands why.
“There is not a more peaceful place on earth, and that’s something I’ve always loved about it,”