Trivitt reflects on past and looks to the future

Father Brad Dunbar has been rector of Trivitt Memorial Church in Exeter and St. John-by-the-Lake in Grand Bend for the past two years, and recently presided over Trivitt’s 150th anniversary celebrations.

As told to Casey Lessard
Photos by Casey Lessard

Trivitt has begun to recognize that we live in a post-Christian era. The days when everyone went to church Sunday mornings are gone. Families are way too busy. So what’s been happening is a looking back to the early church and trying to do the things that started Christianity: feeding people, housing people, and trying to be a voice for people who don’t have one. It’s active, not passive.
We have a three pronged approach: we look to our world, we look to our region, and we look to the town of Exeter. With our global view, Trivitt has been active in the construction of an AIDS clinic in South Africa, and that’s been a big project. In our area, we’ve been sponsoring Huron University College to support their trans-cultural projects. And in a big way, we’ve worked aggressively in being part of the town of Exeter. The money raised at our Thanksgiving celebration went to the Habitat for Humanity in Exeter. We have a weekly Alpha program that includes a free meal. There’s a free monthly meal hosted the third week of the month for the needy, and we go to the different agencies that help people who are on social assistance, and the end of the month is a tough time for those people, so Trivitt tries to feed them.

Spirituality’s important, and how it is expressed can be varied. We’re trying to bring a message of hope and good news to Exeter, but being creative about it. We’d like to make our physical space available for the town when it’s needed. We want to be a civic church and a centre for the community.
I’m involved in Fresh Expressions (, and the idea is to find new ways to meet people half way. The folks who are in their 20s and 30s don’t necessarily have a church memory, but they have a strong spirituality. If you go to Chapters, the best sellers on the shelf will all be books on spirituality. So it’s important for people. What we’re trying to realize and live out is the traditional method isn’t going to work in the reality we live in. We’re looking toward the church of 2050 as opposed to the church of 1950, and I think that’s going to look quite different.
The building will still exist – it’s architecturally significant. The church will look different. The interior will not look like it does today. Just like banks and schools have changed in the last 100 years, so will the church change to meet the needs of the community using it. What the people in their teens and 20s are going to look for is different than what it looked like in 1950. You can’t avoid technology, and I think it will be a big part of how the church looks. Kids today are the generation of the screen. They work and learn and play using the screen. It will be a significant change for the Anglican church. New churches look more like gymnasia than churches, and it’s intentional. People are more comfortable walking into a gymnasium than they are walking into a church. Our building will show the history of the church, but will change to meet the needs of the emerging generation of churchgoers.

For a lot of people, walking into a church building – and we look like a traditional church – can be a very intimidating thing. It can be a barrier for people, so when we hold concerts and shows and other events, and people are able to come in and enjoy, they get a little more comfortable with coming into our worship space. If they don’t go to church, it’s a gentle way to say, Hey, we’re here. If they have something in their lives that makes them need to speak to a pastor, we want to be an option they consider. We also see it as a benefit to the community; we have the physical space to put on big productions and we would like to bring them to South Huron, and we don’t think you have to drive to London for that.
We’re looking at a couple of very contemporary services that we’re hoping to start in Exeter at a different time than Sunday morning. Often, that’s the only time of the week you can relax, sleep in and have bacon and eggs or whatever. We’re going to offer church in a worship sense at different times of the week. We’re also looking at programs that feed someone’s spirit but don’t seem like traditional worship.

The parish spent some time doing some soul searching, and we discovered that music was very important to us and to Exeter. In bringing music director Janet Heerema in, we’ve brought a music professional in full-time and she has made a dramatic impact right from the start. She does an adult choir, children’s choir and a hand-bell choir, which are community based, and the Trivitt choir. The community choirs have people from various churches in the area, and some who don’t go to church. As a church, it’s a gift to the community: we pay her salary and she spends a great deal of her time working on music for the community.
We have an aggressive arts agenda over the next 10 months. We created an arts and culture community and started brainstorming what people might enjoy in the area. The Three Cantors came up on the list, and they work out well for us because they donate from the proceeds of the show to the Huron Hunger Fund, which is affiliated with the Primate’s World Relief and Development Fund. It becomes a charitable event, and they’re a big draw, so it will sell out.

Future concerts include a children’s choir concert Dec. 6, and a Christian rock concert in March. The Three Cantors ( perform Wed., Nov. 18 at 7:30 p.m. Tickets are $20 available online (