A walkway was cleared of snow leading to the steps of St. Matthew’s Anglican Church in Green’s Harbour.
Taking that first step up the concrete stairs last Wednesday was enough to realize they were in disrepair. Large cracks have appeared overtime.
There were still some remnants of ice clinging to the walkway, stairs and even off the roof of the 135-year-old building.
One member of the congregation, who has recently overcome some health problems, takes care of the shovelling.
Rev. Eli Evans, the minister of this and three other church congregations along the Trinity South shore, explained there are only nine members left who are actively involved in the church.
The gentleman was the only one left who could physically shovel the walkway.
On this day, over 60 people piled into the church, some of them members of the parish, but others were members of the neighbouring Anglican churches.
All four local Anglican churches, including one in Whiteway, one in Cavendish and one in Heart’s Delight-Islington, were amalgamated into one parish in a new building, the former Epiphany Elementary in Heart’s Delight. This day marked the deconsecration — or secularization — of the four buildings.
In October of 1880, a bishop named Llewellyn Jones consecrated St. Matthew’s. On this day, Bishop Geoff Peddle took a step back in time with those in attendance for the final religious ceremony to be held at the church.
“Today I am wearing the pectoral cross that (Jones) would have worn,” Peddle explained. “In all likelihood he
was wearing this cross on that great day in 1880, the day this building was consecrated.”
Along with the cross, the diocesan crosier — or bishop’s crook — that was used for this ceremony was also the same one from 1880.
A declaration was read to officially relieve the church of all religious affiliations. A prayer was said, and the same man that shovelled the steps carried the cross down the aisle one final time. After the attendees left and headed up to Whiteway for another deconsecration, Rev. Evans closed and locked the doors.
Walking down the cleared walkway, he explained that the population is just not there, and closing the doors was not done on a whim. In fact, it’s been discussed for several years among the congregation, he said.
Evans then closed the metal gates in front of the church for the last time following a religious ceremony.
The community of Green’s Harbour has a heritage society that has taken a strong interest in St. Matthew’s, but not as a church. The group sees it as a heritage structure, one that can be an attraction for years to come.
Six years ago, the Green’s Harbour Heritage Society purchased the former Orange Lodge building with the intention of converting it into a multi-purpose building. That project remains a work in progress.
The discussion of what will become of the churches has been an active one.
Several ideas have already been discussed among the congregation, but also within the heritage group. Three of the four churches, Green’s Harbour included, are in graveyards. Seeing the buildings are still on consecrated ground, it’s unknown what use they could have in their current locations.
If the building is sold, it could be moved off the current land in one piece or several pieces for relocation. Another possibility is the congregation could approve for another use on the land. And a third option, which the heritage society wants to avoid, is a complete demolition of the structure.
Nancy Brace, a member of the heritage society, sees the building as essential for the cultural integrity of Green’s Harbour.
“We would like to keep it there because it’s a focal point when you enter the community,” she explained.
What’s to come?
The church has not begun discussions on what will happen with the buildings yet, but Peddle confirmed the congregation will weigh heavily on that decision. First, inventory must be taken care of, which could take anywhere from months to years.
“The parish will then have decisions to make,” he explained. “The local people will probably be the strongest voice. We have to listen to them.”
Peddle confirmed he’d like to see the buildings survive, even though they won’t be used as churches anymore.
“Bottom line for the church, we don’t want to keep (financial and physical) responsibility,” he added. Brace and the heritage society would like to have a say in the outcome of the structure as well.
“The Green’s Harbour Heritage Society really wants to work with the parish to make sure the Green’s Harbour Anglican congregation and (the society’s wants and needs) are met by saving the building in a respectful way,” she said.
Although there is nothing set in stone yet, both the bishop and the heritage society don’t want to end up in a stalemate, as was the case with the former church in St. Phillips. Following a decade of not being in use, and five years of conflict between the congregation and community, the building was torn down last year.
The minister of Business, Tourism, Culture and Rural Development Christopher Mitchelmore said in a statement to The Compass that the building could be given heritage status, thus protecting it from demolition, on the approval of the Anglican diocese and the province’s heritage foundation.
“The Heritage Foundation Newfoundland and Labrador provides funding and advice to the owners of active historic churches that supports preservation. Subject to the agreement of the building owner, the Foundation designates structures deemed to be of provincial significance,” Mitchelmore said.
Brace wants people to think of both the economic and tourism potential for keeping the building in the community. She also wants to ensure the heritage can be preserved, whether it requires the sale of the building for preservation or getting assistance from outside organizations.
“(Think about the) history of your community and the work of our forefathers have done,” she said. “The issue becomes, for some smaller communities, this could be the only heritage buildings they have.”
More discussions will take place in the coming months, but a decision on what to do is not expected until at least 2017.