All are welcome" is a common motto, but the congregation at Avonlea United Church in Domain are truly eager to welcome new members, no matter their religious background or lack thereof.
"This church really is a church family," said Rev. Cathy Maxwell, who serves the United churches in Domain, Starbuck and Sanford on a rotating basis, along with a retired supply minister. "We have an open church."
Longtime congregation member, church board chair and organist Jane Manness said the church’s numbers are growing, with an average of 40 to 60 people regularly attending Sunday service.
As church attendance decreases in many communities across North America, Avonlea United is bucking the trend despite its location in Domain, about 10 kilometres south of La Salle. But it is the church’s proximity to La Salle, a growing bedroom community, that is helping to keep new members coming through its doors.
"This is a multi-generational church," said Manness, adding that children are welcome to attend Sunday school and also to participate in the services.
Another unique feature is the music incorporated in each service, Maxwell added.
"There’s special music every Sunday," she said, with a skilled and dedicated church choir and local musicians performing on a variety of instruments.
As well as the many new members, there are local families who have been part of the church for decades. Janice and Cliff Harrison have attended since they moved back to the area in 1979, but Cliff had accompanied his parents to church in the 1950s and 60s.
"Christmas Eve at Avonlea is a tradition that brings our four children and their families back to worship," said Janice.
The stained glass windows, two of which were created by renowned Winnipeg artist Leo Mol, are dedicated in memory of family members who attended Avonlea United.
The United Church’s history in the area stretches back to the late 1800s when the land was first settled by farmers. Avonlea’s congregation honours its history every year with a special heritage service at the Union Point church which stands between the two lanes of Highway 75 north of Morris. This year’s service is set for Sun., June 30 at 11 a.m.
Although it’s been officially closed for decades, the Morris Historical Society owns the building.
"It’s a roadside sanctuary," said Manness.
Avonlea United’s only fundraising event is its annual spring tea held in April.
Manness said the congregation is generous in its financial support for necessary maintenance and renovations.
Maxwell added that everyone is willing to become active on committees and volunteer their time to make sure the church continues to thrive.