The first church services in the community of Merna were held in Mr. and Mrs. Cox’s sod house in 1906; the minister was Reverend Finley. Mr. Kirk, a student minister, took over worship services after Reverend Finley and held the services in many different homes in the area. The Marion A. and Myrtle Cox had a daughter, Bessie, who would marry Steve Pottage and go onto write the book, “As the Wheel Turns: A History of Merna and District”.
The present church on this property, pictured below, was built in 1907 by the Presbyterians and was opened for worship by Reverend Miller. The church was dedicated Sunday July 29th, 1908 with services by Reverend J. Thors; the minister at that time was Reverend J. McKay.
The church was built mostly by Mr. George Jackman but with the help of the entire Merna community; Jackman also built the pews for the church. The Merna United Church is a one-and-a-half story gable roofed building with an engaged tower atop a gable roofed main entrance. It is clad with clapboard siding and has contrasting coloured corner boards. When the church was built, the half story in the nave was open but this was enclosed later in its life. The church is vernacular in design. This is evident in the square composite tower and belfry and the local expression of Gothic Revival in the pointed arch windows in the nave. There is a single stained-glass transom window above the southern doorway; the wooden frame around this was built by Lloyd O’Reilly.
The property is significant for not only the church but also for the surrounding cemetery. One of the earliest graves in the cemetery belongs to Mary Winfred Stewart (1871-1905). The church was designated a Municipal Historic Resource with Flagstaff County on July 17, 2013.
Steve Pottage was the church’s first organist. At that time, the congregation was made up of families including the: Bruces, Camerons, Colvins, Cox’s, Halls, Jackmans, Johnsons, Kendricks, McLennans, McLeods, McPhersons, O’Reillys, Peacocks, Pottages, Reids, Robertsons, Romboughs, Smiths, Stewarts, Stothards, and Veeders.
In April 1922, a local union of the Presebyterian and the Methodist congregations was created with Reverend D. Pomeroy as the minister of all involved. In 1925, the general union of churches was consummated and the Merna Church passed into the union along with the Alliance congregation.
In 1956, a Sunday School room was added to the South side of the building. This was made possible by the donation of time and money by members within the community and outside of it. Before this, it was not uncommon for Sunday School to be held out in cars in the parking lot or on the grass in the summertime.
There was no heating or electricity in the church for a long time. After a while, a wood burning stove was put into the church near the southern entrance and the guestbook pulpit. This stove had a large pipe that went from it to the chimney in the north-western corner of the church, where the current chimney is. This stove was later replaced by an oil stove; however, today neither are present and so the church has no heating. Currently, electricity does not run into the church but it used to; additionally, a generator can be hooked up outside to power the lights inside if need be.
In December 1963, Merna Church lost Mr. J.E. Nichol due to illness and then became associated with the Sedgewick-Lougheed Charge with services being conducted by Reverend Don Lewis. On June 30, 1964, a new three-point Charge of Sedgewick, Lougheed, and Merna was formed by action of the Coronation Presbyterian Church.
In 1970, the bell tower was added to the church’s northern side. It was left open for a few years and then was enclosed late in the 1970s.
In June 1982, a seventy-fifth anniversary was held for the church with the last regular service in the church being held in December of that year. From that time on, the church has held a service only once a year in the summer. These have been presided over by Reverend Randy Hedeman; including the ninetieth anniversary in 1982 and the one-hundredth anniversary in 2007.
The Merna Church and the cemetery are currently under the care of the Merna Cemetery Maintenance Society. This group’s most recent work on the church was in 2015 when it was repainted and the shingles were replaced. When the church had to be re-shingled a few years ago, the Merna Cemetery Maintenance Society sent letters out to the families of everyone buried in the cemetery. From the donations given as a result, the got was completed. The church is currently maintained by members of the community, including current Secretary-Treasurer Debbie Leslie (since 2014).
War Veterans buried in the Merna United Church Cemetery include: Bruce Smith (RCAF), Donald H. McLeod (RCAF Flight Sergeant), James Wetmore, Richard Ball (CECEF WWI), Stan Sheldrake (L41079 Pte RCAMC), Alred A. Baker (WWI), James Baker, Robert McLeod (RCA), and Wayne Lunty (RCA WWII).
When preparing this story for the database, I spoke with Edith Lunty (nee Pottage and Bessie Cox’s daughter) and Doreen Eldey (VanDerwark). Interestingly, Doreen told me of how her grandmother, Margaret Walsh, taught Edith’s mother, Bessie Cox, when she was young in Park Rapids, Minnesota, USA. Both Bessie and Edith would become teachers later in their lives and teach in Merna and surrounding area.
The Merna District was, and still is, a tight-knit community. There even used to be a Kindergarten to Grade Nine school in the area. On June 30th, 1969, the Merna School closed down; the bell would be moved to the church and be put in the tower, but other solutions could not so easily be found. The closing of the school separated friends and family that had been together since they were young. One such person was twelve-year-old Ian Eckstrand who penned the following poem.
Leslie, Debbie. Personal communication. 13 Aug. 2018.
The Original Cemetery Plot Record Book
52.579831, -111.683654 SW 04-42-12 W4
Church Condition: Good
Construction Date: 1907
Features: Pointed arch windows in the nave, single stained-glass transom window above main entrance, cemetery, engaged tower atop a gable roofed entrance
Roof Shape: Gable, one-and-a-half story
Paint: White with green trim
Decorations: “Merna United Church and Cemetery Built 1907” sign on southern face of bell tower
Roof Covering: Asphalt shingles
Siding: Wooden clapboard with contrasting coloured corner boards