John Owens was a leading member of the Methodist community in Saint John, New Brunswick. He disagreed with the majority of his fellow Methodists in believing that instrumental music was not appropriate for church services. When his fellow trustees of Portland Methodist Church installed an organ, he withdrew and with some like-minded associates, he founded an independent church.
Zion Church on Valley Road, Portland, Saint John opened 25 July 1858. The congregation accepted principles close to Methodism and Presbyterianism. Membership was granted after candidates had been examined by the pastor, made a confession of faith and received a majority of the votes of the congregation. The church had strict guidelines for conduct and members who disobeyed were either suspended or excommunicated by a majority of church members present at a regular meeting. The mode of baptism was decided by individual church members and baptism of infants was left to the parents to decide.
The dedication service in 1858 was conducted by Rev. Dr. Donald, a local Presbyterian minister. The following Sunday, Rev. W.H. Daniels, a preacher connected to the Methodist Episcopalian Church became pastor. A Sunday School was organized 29 August 1858.
On 1 August 1859 Daniels was succeeded by Thomas Smith, a former Methodist preacher. The church was enlarged to accommodate 800 people and a parsonage was built during Mr. Smith's pastorate. In 1861, Rev. Daniels returned to the pastorate and was ordained on 1 September. The ordination service was conducted by Rev. Henry Wilkes, pastor of Zion's Church, Montreal; Rev. R. Wilson, Congregationalist of Sheffield; and Rev. George Stirling of Keswick Ridge. They were assisted by serval ministers of Saint John. In 1863, John Baylis became pastor until 1872.
After the death of John Owen in 1867, the management of the church was transferred to a board of trustees who were authorized to appoint pastors from the Episcopal, Presbyterian, Baptist, Congregationalist or Methodist denominations. No instrumental music was to be permitted. Owens left money to run the church and also an endowment for teaching children music and drawing. Ministers of several different denominations served the church until June 1881 when it was closed.
By an act of Parliament, the church was turned into an art gallery and its endowment used to purchase paintings. When the gallery gailed, legislative authority was given to transfer the paintings to Sackville, where, in 1895, they formed the foundation of the permanent collection of the Owens Gallery at Mount Allison University. The church building was turned over to the Methodists and reopened as a Methodist Church in 1893.
Source: "The interesting life story of Zion Methodist Church", "The Semi-Weekly Telegraph" St. John, N.B., 22 January 1902