History

Excerpts from Parkview United Church History Book 2010 “Think About His Love” by Maureen Beecroft

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In The Beginning….

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1920’s Stratford was a reflection of society in North American.  Economically, it was a time of optimism, growth and change.  Stratford was developing in the east end.  Factories expanded and homes sprang up.  The socio-economic distance between the classes was as wide as ever.  The Great War changed nothing in this respect.  It was a poorer class in the east end and the homes were smaller, much different from the more affluent centre of town and the large ornate homes of the western wards.

There was disillusionment among the veterans who had returned from Europe expecting a better life.  What they found were low wages and pressure for higher productivity in the factories.  There was a desire for stability after the preceding years of war and the present time of uncertainties.

This was a time of turning to God, church and family values after the horrors of WW1.  In North America, church attendance and membership grew.  In Stratford, the same held true.  The church once again became the centre of spiritual growth and social life.

The only church in the east end of Stratford was Catholic – Immaculate Conception.  Perth Presbytery (Presbyterian) directed the ministers of St. Andrew’s and Knox Presbyterian Churches to contact representatives from the Methodist congregations and call a community meeting to see if it was the will of the people that an interdenominational Sunday School be established in the east end of Stratford.  Seen as a potential mission field, the east end was empty of Protestant influence.  A Sunday School that people could walk to was important.

At this time, Sunday Schools were not just attended by children.  Adult classes and Bible studies for young adults were very common.  Sunday Schools were seen as an extension of both school and family life.  Skills learned at school were reinforced by the Sunday School teachers.  People who worked 6 days a week willingly attended classes, followed by worship on Sunday mornings, often returning for afternoon or evening services.

If there was no service in the afternoon, that time was regularly used for social events held in the church.  The youth met their future spouses at Sunday School events, then courted at Young People’s Association (YPA) meetings.  men took seriously the mentoring of the young boys growing up in the Sunday School, knowing that the future of the church, the community, and even the world lay in their hands.  Women organized the raising of countless amounts of money for good causes while studying the Bible.  Mission work was seen as an essential part of the Christian life, introduced at an early age in Sunday School and reinforced over the years.  The philosophy “Train up a child in the way he should go and when he is old, he will not depart from it” (Proverbs 22:6 King James Version) was taken seriously.

The time was ripe for the expansion of the Protestant faith into the east end of Stratford.  A committee consisting of Rev J W Magwood of Central Methodist, Chairman; Rev Finlay Matheson of St Andrew’s Presbyterian, secretary; Mr. H J Near, Superintendant of Trinity Methodist Sunday School; and Mr J C Stewart, an elder of Knox Presbyterian Church started organizing, and a article was published in the Stratford Beacon Herald on Saturday march 22 1924, appearing on the front page.

“Organize Union Sunday School

Meeting called for Sunday march 30 in Juliet School for those wanting building in East End.

The committee which has had in hand the organization of a Sunday School in the east end of the city has called a meeting for Sunday afternoon March 30 for the purpose of organizing a Union Sunday School.  The meeting will be held in the Juliet School, Brunswick Street, at 2:45 o’clock and children, adults, parents and volunteers are invited.  Rev J W Magwood is chairman of the committee and Rev Finlay Matheson, secretary.” (Stratford Beacon Herald)

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On Sunday March 30 1924, thirty-one people attended the Juliet School and the East End Sunday School was born!  They were keenly interested in beginning as soon as possible.  H G Martyn was elected superintendant; J B Waugh, secretary; and G F Gilliland, treasurer.  A committee of six was chosen to make a canvass of that section of the city with a view to enrolling members for the Sunday School.  A list of prospective teachers was made, and they would be interviewed during the week to enlist their services.

The newspaper reported that regular classes would begin on the very next Sunday, April 6 at 2:45pm.  No one was sure how many people would turn out.  Only God knew what would become of this small band of faithful followers.

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The East End Sunday School

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Sunday, April 6, 1924 must have been a day filled with nervous tension.  Three women and two men had volunteered to teach classes at the newly formed East End Sunday School.  They had no warning of how many people to expect, nor any idea what ages would come.

On that eventful day, starting 15 min late at 3pm, 75 people of all ages arrived to take part in the first Sunday School classes.  The teachers must have been well prepared because the day was reported to be a great success.

Superintendent Mr H G Martyn (who filled this position on a temporary basis) ended up holding his position for the next 11 years.

Juliet School

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The First United Church Congregation in Canada

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Union between the Presbyterian, Methodist and Congregationalist congregations in Canada was a subject that sold newspapers in 1924. The Stratford Beacon Herald ran daily reports about the opinions on both sides. In Stratford, the major dissenters seemed to be in the Presbyterian churches, since the newspaper articles were mostly about opinions expressed by people attending Knox and St. Andrew’s. Tempers flared and that helped newspapers sell.

On December 5 1924, Mrs Agnes Johnston, a 90 yr old Presbyterian was interviewed. “The problem,” she said, “is a very weighty one, almost too large to be attempted successfully. In the heat of the subject both sides are making assertions that are not becoming to Christians,” in her opinion. The basis of the move is good… and if properly carried out, the idea is right.

In January 1924 a huge number of the congregations of Knox and St. Andrews left the Presbyterian church. Their ministers resigned and went with them, calling themselves “Unionists”. It is impossible to relate the history of Parkview without discussing this group since they are tied together in many ways. These “Unionists” immediately formed a new congregation complete with boards to govern, and worshiped at the city hall. Soon, ads appeared to advertise the services, calling the new church “First United”, stating they had two ministers. One of these was Rev. Finlay Matheson who had been working for the past year on the committee that organized the East End Sunday School.

It is important to stress that First United and Parkview United were two completely separate congregations. First United was a fully functional congregation before Union. They were accepted into the United Church of Canada at the end of June 1925. By the fall of 1925 they amalgamated with Trinity (Methodist) United, and this new union built a brand new building on the site of the old Trinity Methodist. This new congregation was named St. John’s United.

By March 1925, with an official union of the Methodist, Presbyterians and Congregationalists looking like a sure thing, the adults of the East End Sunday School were hoping for worship in conjunction with the Christian education being provided. Attendance by now was averaging 240 people of all ages. Since the superintendent represented the Methodist faith, a request was made to the former Presbyterian ministers to provide worship. Rev Finlay Matheson agreed to attend and the first formal worship with the attendees of the Sunday School was held on the evening of March 15 1925 with 40 people. Soon Rev Matheson began conducting worship on Sunday mornings, with the Sunday School continuing to meet in the afternoons.

When union became official on June 10, 1925, First United called a new minister, Rev Stanley Owens. Rev Matheson was now able to commit full-time to the East End worshippers. But the people meeting in the Juliet School were not an official congregation yet. They were neither “fish nor fowl”. Presbyterian, Methodist and Congregationalists congregations that voted in favour of union were automatically now United Church of Canada. But the East End Sunday School was an interdenominational mission project, supported by all the churches in Stratford. If they wanted to be part of this exciting new church they needed to do something official.

On July 7 1925, a commission of Presbytery met with the people of the East End congregation. Rev H.G. Crozier of Tavistock, Rev J.J. Brown of St. Marys, Rev N.M. Leckie of Motherwell, and elder George McKay of Tavistock represented the presbytery of Stratford. Rev Finlay Matheson handed these men a roll of 74 names, the first official members of the new congregation. What is interesting in reading these names is that Rev Matheson signed the roll. Was this common in the Presbyterian Church? In the United Church a minister is not a member of the congregation but of Presbytery. Another explanation could be that maybe Mr. Matheson was not a member anywhere since he was not a minister in any recognized congregation. Maybe this is how he got on the roll of ministers in the United Church. We will probably never know the answer. After a prayer of dedication, the name of the church was unanimously declared to be “The Parkview United Church.” The first governing board was then elected and Parkview became a “real” church.

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Work and Worship in the New Building

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It was very apparent very early that the new East End Sunday School would soon outgrow the space available in the Juliet School.  As early as Oct 26 1924 there was a desire for a permanent structure for the Sunday School.  A special meeting was held for those interested in starting a building fund.  Even more meetings were held to discuss how this would be accomplished.

On July 19 1925 the congregation appointed an official building committee.  Since funds were limited, it was felt that the best use of the money was to build a Sunday School building first, with plans to add a sanctuary and a third floor to the original building later, when funds were available.  Plans were drawn up by a local architect, Mr. James Russell.

On July 27 1925, five lots at the corner of King St (later called Parkview Dr) and Ontario St were purchased from Mr David M. Wright of Central United Church.  Mr. Wright must have been a very enthusiastic supporter of this mission church.  He never transferred his membership from Central to the new congregation, nor did he cease his support and attendance at his home church.  However, he sold the east end congregation the lots for $1 each.  In 1917 Mr Wright had purchased these pieces of land for a total of $5000.  This was definitely a case of  “putting your money where your mouth is” for it showed that his faith in God was more important than making a profit.  These lots extended from Ontario St to Cobourg St.

Many of the churches in Stratford gave money to the project and donations were received from private citizens in the city.   Following up on an idea from the women of the congregation, Mr Bell’s Bible class appointed a Brick committee that “sold” bricks throughout the community.   Young men canvassed the residents of Stratford to “buy” bricks to build the new building.  Donations of 50 and 75 cents were the norm.

After the formal formation of Parkview United Church in July 1925, the local Board of Education began charging the new congregation $1.50 per week to cover the cost of heating and lighting.  This was a great deal of money, money that the church board felt could be best used in their own facility.  The sooner they could move into a building of their own the better.

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Laying the Cornerstone of Parkview United Sunday School

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Laying the cornerstone of Parkview United Sunday School

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On Thursday Oct 29, 1925 the cornerstone was laid for the new Parkview United Sunday School.  Unusually cold and snowy weather had plagued Perth County for the preceding month.  Even the Perth County Plowing Match had to be postponed because of the large amount of snow that fell in early October.  By the end of the month the weather had moderated but snow still lay on the ground and the winds were brisk and raw.  The organizing committee decided to continue with their plans for an outside worship service and dedication of the cornerstone.  A large crowd gathered for this historic occasion, braving the cold, gray day.  Photographs show a crowd of the faithful, bundled up against the cold winds, filling King St (now Parkview Dr) near the building site.

Crowd gathered for the laying of the cornerstone

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Construction of Parkview United Sunday School

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 In December 1925, the building committee and trustees decided to ask for a loan of $18,000 from the British Loan Company.  It was later found that $16,000 would be sufficient and the mortgage was arranged according

The board minutes record that on January 24, 1926, a decision was made to adopt an envelope system of offering to help pay off the principal on the mortgage.  It was hoped that by going to this system there would be more regular givings.  Becoming a formal congregation meant that now yearly allocations were due to Perth Presbytery ($18.40 in Feb 1926) and owning a building meant payment of property taxes ($283 for 1925).  Obviously following the call of God would require a great deal of hard work and sacrifice by the fledgling church in east end Stratford.

By March 1926 the new building was finished!  On the first anniversary of the inauguration of worship in the Juliet School, March 14 1926, the new facilities were dedicated to the glory of God.  Rev. T. Albert Moore, General Council Secretary of the United Church of Canada was a guest speaker, filling the upper hall to capacity at both morning and evening services.  The Ladies Aid served a congregational super the following evening and the celebrations continued for the next few weeks.  On Sunday March 21, Rev Alexander of Hamilton preached, and on Sunday March 28 the service was led by Rev Dr. Robertson.  Both weeks there was morning and evening worship.  Members of local church choirs joined with the Parkview choir to enhance these services.  During the last week of March, Rev Finlay Matheson, pastor of Parkview, held a series of services each evening, concluding with an Easter pageant on Wednesday evening March 31.

The first communion in the new building was held on Easter Sunday, April 4 1926 with 144 people receiving the sacrament and 62 people admitted to membership in the United Church.

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Parkview United Church Sunday School

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The congregation of Parkview has always been very progressive in the faith development and worship in their church.  In 1927 it was written in the Board minutes that it was the feeling of the Board that children accompanied by their parents had the right to be allowed to partake of Holy Communion.   In 1931 there was a discussion about allowing women to serve on the Session, a revolutionary idea for this time in history.  Also in 1937 a questionnaire was distributed to members and adherents asking them to respond with any changes and ideas to enhance the worship experience.  How daring and forward thinking in a time when most ministers kept a tight hand on any worship in the church, and change in this area was neither encouraged nor a common event.

In 1933 a pulpit was received from another church that was closing (Cooper’s Church on the Woodham circuit).  This pulpit is still in the Upper Hall and was used continuously until the new sanctuary was built in 1962.  It is still used by various groups that use the hall.

At the front of the upper hall, a raised area was built in 1936 for a choir loft that looked like a choir loft in a real sanctuary.

The new congregation now had a permanent home.  The Building Fund books were officially closed in 1936, but financial struggles continued.  Parkview had started as  a mission project in Stratford and continued to be supported by local churches of all Protestant denominations for the next many years.

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The Manse

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In 1929 a proposal was approved to build a manse on the land between the church building and Cobourg St.  This meant acquiring another mortgage, and again the women took over paying the interest on the mortgage.  But paying two mortgages was too much of a burden for the fledgling congregation.  Even with the money from the Missionary and Maintenance Fund to help, the members of Parkview had a hard decision to face in May 1940.  The mortgage on the church building was deemed to be the most important to pay off and the manse was repossessed by the mortgage company.  With continued help from the National Church the ministers lived in rental accommodation or in their own home.   In October 1945 the manse was repurchased and the women again assumed the obligation of paying the interest on another mortgage.   They also furnished the manse, redecorated it and continued to be responsible for repairs.  An appeal was made to the Women’s Association from the Official Board to pay off the mortgage on the manse as soon as possible.  In 1949 Parkview United was finally debt free thanks to the work of the women.

The manse remained in the possession of Parkview United until 2002, when it was sold for the last time by the congregation.  By then more and more ministers preferred to receive a housing allowance in addition to their salary.  This allowed ministers to be more independent but the relationship between minister and congregation would forever be changed.

 

manse

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World War Two

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During the Second World War the church became a haven for people trying to cope with the worries and losses that filled their lives.  The news from Europe and the Pacific gave little hope.  Everyone waited for news of an Allied victory.

During the war years the ladies were active in making Red Cross quilts and quilting them at the church.  The women also served in the canteen of the Active Service club and they opened their homes to the servicemen away from home.

Tuesday June 6, 1944 finally brought the long hoped for invasion of Europe by Allied forces.  When the news reached Stratford, every church started ringing their bells, every factory blew their whistles and the fire sirens wailed.   The entire population realized at once what it meant.  People immediately left whatever they were doing and rushed to the churches to pray for the safety of the forces and to give thanks to God.  Parkview quickly filled to more than capacity.  Women left their washing and baking and rushed to the church in their house dresses, kerchiefs and everyday shoes.  Factory workers left their jobs and entered in their overalls and work boots.  Children were sent home from school.  Parkview again provided a sanctuary to the east end of Stratford.  The members of the congregation automatically did what was needed to be done to help other, a tradition that continues.

At the end of World War 2 an Honour Roll was unveiled.  This listed the names of the members and adherents who had served in the armed forces.  A silver star was placed beside the names of those who had died in that conflict.

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Post-World War Two

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On June 15, 1945 the church was filled with a grateful congregation to witness the burning of the mortgage.  Once the mortgage on the church was paid off it was time to take a second look at the facilities.  The original plan called for an addition of a sanctuary for Sunday worship to be built on the land closest to Ontario St.  There were also plans for another floor and a steeple to be added onto the top of the existing Sunday School building, hence the flat roof that is there now.  But with World War 2 just over and family life still uncertain, it didn’t seem like the time to expand.

Renovations to the manse and the church were made between 1952 and 1955 in two stages, with the church work being completed largely by volunteer labour, happening first.  The folding chairs were removed and pews were installed.  Windows were altered and lighting changed.   The church was rededicated on Sunday Oct. 26, 1952.  The upper hall in the Sunday School building that had been designated for “worship if so desired” was now truly a sanctuary with pews, a pulpit and a choir loft.

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Stratford Shakespearean Festival of Canada

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One of the longest fund-raising ventures that the women of Parkview became involved in was serving meals to patrons of the Stratford Shakespearean Festival starting with the opening night of July 13, 1953.  Some of the other churches in Stratford took part in this as well since there was a lack of restaurants in the city.  People came by special chartered trains into the city.  The Toronto Telegram trains arrived every Tuesday, and women served 200 guests once a week for 8 weeks.  Special trains from Detroit also booked meals at Parkview and during the season Parkview women served these Americans on two Friday nights a season as well.  After the evening performances, many people came to Parkview at 11pm to have coffee and doughtnuts.  By 1956 these were served by the men of the church using disposable cups and spoons.  It was the women, however, who carried the brunt of the load.  1954 was one of the busiest years of all all, netting a profit of over $5000.  The men of the church showed their appreciation to the women for all their hard work that year by inviting the ladies to a turkey dinner with all the trimmings, cooked, served, and even dishes done by the men!  This was quite a thing in 1954, a time when most men never entered a kitchen except to eat!  That day Parkview men started something that continues to this day – an equal opportunity kitchen.

This photograph of workers preparing a Festival meal was taken in 1953 in the furnace room at Parkview.  Front and centre is Mrs Lizzie (Elizabeth) Strathdee.
The centre woman in  the group on the right is Vine Finch.

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In 1958, the ladies decided to limit their catering of Festival meals to twice a month.  By then there were more restaurants in Stratford equipped to cope with the crowds.

In 1959, one particular evening made the news in Toronto.  The Toronto Telegram newspaper ran an editorial on Monday July 13 with the headlines “Thank You Stratford”.  It told about the events of the preceding Friday evening, how after more than 70 special trains sponsord by the Telegram to the Festival, one broke down near Guelph.  Over 300 patrons moved at a snail’s pace toward their goal, the train running on only one diesel unit.  CNR telegraphed the Stratford dispatcher to pass the word to the ladies of Parkview and St. John’s United (who were preparing the pre-theatre meal for the 340 theatre goers at their respective churches) that their patrons would be late, if ever they arrived at all.  Just as the train limped into the station and the people were preparing to board the buses that Stratford Coach Lines had sent to help them on their way, the heavens opened in a rain that seemed to be the last straw.  The passengers were whisked off to dinner (the paper said that it was excellent), and when the Festival heard about their plight they delayed the curtain  call by 13 minutes, the first time in their history that a play started late.  The Toronto party saw the whole show and Parkview received some well deserved publicity for their hospitality and food.

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1961… The New Sanctuary

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“Baby Boomers” is the term used today for children born between 1946 and 1965.   The decades after World War Two were decades of affluence, excitement, new technology, and advancements.  Television opened up the world.  Transcontinental flights became more common for ordinary people.  Men walked on the moon!

The population of Stratford grew quickly after the young people returned home from the war.  Marriages and families put on hold because of the conflict soon began.   This new generation swelled the churches where their parents were raised.  It wasn’t long before buildings grew too small and decisions had to be made.

At Parkview, plans had already been made to build a sanctuary in the lot to the south of the Sunday School building when it was erected in 1929.  But these plans were not in any concrete form – they were really just dreams of expansion.  For a while the improvements made to the worship space in the early 1950’s seemed to satisfy the need for change.  The original members of the ease end Sunday School remembered the dream however.

Another building committee was formed in 1959 and Parkview was back to work again.  With the encouragement of the minister at the time, Rev Merrill Ferguson, they petitioned Perth Presbytery for permission to build an addition containing a sanctuary, lounge and office space.   They proposed to pay for this venture by using 100 certificates of loan, borrowing $15,500 from the congregation at 6% interest.  They also wanted to borrow $11,010.40 from the Presbytery Extension Fund at 3 1/2%.  The rest of the funds would come from a bank mortgage and fund raising.  In 1961 Presbytery approved this plan and the excitement began!

This new addition was to be constructed by Logan Construction Ltd of Stratford.  Plans called for a 400 seat sanctuary, church office, choir rooms, vestry, lounge, and other accomodation.  The highlight of the architecture would be a 62 foot tower with a cross, proclaiming to the community that this was a Christian edifice.  The first ceremony  was held on the front lawn on August 20, 1961 with 300 members and guests attending.  The cornerstone for the new building was laid in a second ceremony on November 26, 1961. By the time the fundraising was completed and the dust had settled from construction, the total cost of the building, furnishings, cross tower, and outside lighted sign was $101,591.42.

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.. New chapel addition going up in 1961

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Dedication of the finished addition occurred on Wednesday March 7, 1962 at 8pm.   It began with a loud knocking on the sanctuary doors, representing the “knocking by Christ on the door of the human heart”, by the Chair of Presbytery.   During a service full of symbolism, keys were passed from hand to hand by those participating until the minister laid these keys upon the communion table, indicating that the building was open and ready for dedication.

Another “burning of the mortgage” took place on Sunday May 7, 1972.  These “people of God” had worked very hard to clear themselves of a huge debt in just 10 years!

The cross tower, erected in 1961 with the hope it would serve as a sign of the gospel being preached inside, was not as permanent as first thought.  One windy day in March 2007 the tower crashed to the ground, taking a large tree with it.

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Parkview with original 62 foot-high cross tower

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The most recent addition to the building occurred on January 4, 2009 when a large lighted cross, installed on the surface fronting Ontario St, was dedicated.  Paid for with money from the closing of Centennial United, this cross caused much talk in the city.  Parkview United, contrary to some rumours at the time, was alive and well and worshipping with excitement and passion.

Modern-day view of Parkview with lighted cross.

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Centennial United Church

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The ties between Centennial United and Parkview United have existed for many years.  Centennial United closed in December 2006.  In January 2007 Parkview opened its doors and its heart to anyone from the sister church that  chose to come.  An unexpected resignation by the organist at Parkview gave the opportunity for Centennial’s now unemployed organist, Jim Jordan, to find a new church home.  A couple of month’s later another former Centennial member, Belinda Roth, was hired as Office Administrator.  By March 2007, after three months of learning new names and welcoming new faces, 56 former members of Centennial joined Parkview United.  In the coming years more arrived and were welcomed with open arms.  The new members stepped up immediately to fill positions and work together.  The ties between the two congregations were now permanent.   In 2011 Parkview put together a new mission statement for the church.     The core of this new mission statement for Parkview was derived from the former mission statement of Centennial United.

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The Social Networking Era

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2011 saw another growth spurt in the congregation at Parkview with overall attendance up over 11% that year.   New members at Parkview were starting to express an interest in bringing the church into the social networking world.   In 2011 a move was made by Parkview to join the World Wide Web, and Facebook  and  Twitter pages were set up.    Then in January 2012, Parkview brought its first-ever website (www.parkviewunitedstratford.ca) online.   Parkview had started broadcasting its message to the world.

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