History of St. John’s

“Living Faith” speaks of the Church as “Christ together with His people, called both to worship and to serve Him in all of life” (Art.7.1.1).      In the mystery of God’s will He first called together a small band of people in 1787 in Cornwall (then called New Johnstown), under the itinerant ministry of the Rev. John Bethune of Williamstown. Cornwall was then one of a number of places where this man of God shared His gifts for many years.  From such a fragile beginning grew a congregation of the Reformed/Presbyterian Tradition that continues to worship Christ and to serve Him in many ways in this community.

Upon the death of Bethune in 1815, this “Scotch Congregation” was, for a time,  ministered to by Masters of the local Grammar school, until 1827 when the Rev. Hugh Urquhart arrived from Scotland, after a short stay in Montreal. A half-finished building for worship was quickly completed on the east side of Pitt Street, a Session of Elders was organized for good government, and in 1831 the name “St. John’s” was chosen. The only other Church in the community at the time was Trinity Anglican Church. Dr. Urquhart ministered to St. John’s until his death in 1871, building up a strong congregation with great influence for good in the growing community.

In 1888-89 under the direction of his successor, the Rev. Dr. Neil MacNish, the congregation built their existing building on Second Street East, moving just a little east  of Pitt Street, which by then was becoming very commercialized. This impressive building, built of limestone quarried locally, was a sign not only of expansion but of solid determination to preach and share the Gospel of Jesus Christ with the community, a task that has not changed through the years. Seventy years late (1959) Caldwell Hall was built to meet the needs of an expanding congregation and ministry.

Urquhart and MacNish were the initial “builders” of the congregation, but their successors have continued their faithful labours for Christ. Sessions and Managers have provided strong leadership for the education of youth and sharing the Gospel with the community in many concrete ways. Following WW II women expanded their leadership roles in the congregation as well. Mary Duffin was a Deaconess at St. John’s from 1966 to 1968, the Rev. Patricia Hannah was the associate minister from 1987 to 1990 and the Rev. Ruth Draffin served as minister at St. Johns from 2003 to 2016.

While honoring her past years in the Reformed tradition, St. John’s has not ignored present or future, in worship or in serving Jesus Christ in Cornwall and area. The congregation continues to fulfill the injunction of Living Faith – “Christ . . . with His people . . . called . . .to worship and to serve Him”. You are warmly invited to share with others in such a high calling.*

*Living Faith (1998) is one of the Subordinate Standards of  Faith of  The Presbyterian Church in Canada, subordinate as always to Jesus Christ, the only King and Head of the Church.