Grace United Church has reached a milestone in its rebuilding. This week, roof trusses are being installed and soon exterior cladding will be applied to the framing. Drive along Bancroft and you will see the construction site is busy and as The Rev. Erin Todd remarks, things are going “full steam ahead.”
Fire is a terrible thing. Rev. Todd recounts the events of July 24, 2019, when lightning struck — not once, but twice.
“The first strike seems to have struck the bell tower, causing a small fire, which was readily extinguished. The second strike seems to have struck the fellowship hall, igniting the fire that ultimately destroyed the church. Due to the age and structure of the building, the fire spread quickly. It took over six hours for firefighters to get it under control.”
The Minnow Lake historic building originally housed St. Luke's, and then Grace United, for a combined total of 70-plus years.
Now, Grace United is being rebuilt. Insurance has been an essential ingredient in the rise from the ashes. How far along is the construction? “After a number of delays, and unexpected glitches. the rebuild is going ‘full steam ahead. Where for almost two years there has been an empty hole in the Bancroft landscape, there is now the frame of the sanctuary of the ‘new and improved’ Grace United Church. The framing of the sanctuary is complete, including the roof trusses. The fellowship hall at the back of the building is yet to be framed,” Todd said.
Todd has been the minister of this congregation for 12 years after serving at First United Church in Wawa, and following time in the Greater Toronto area. Todd is a graduate of the Master of Divinity program at Emmanuel College (University of Toronto) and was ordained in 2005 returning to her hometown of Sudbury in 2009.
Having a significant family link to Sudbury - and this church - Todd feels deeply connect to the community.
“I returned to Sudbury, and to what then was Nickel District Pastoral Charge (now the amalgamated Grace United) when my beloved Dad was diagnosed with cancer, and I felt a strong ‘pull’ to come back to my hometown to be near him and my Mom. Nickel District happened to be seeking a new minister at that time, and so ‘the stars aligned’.
“The neat part is that St. Luke's (the congregation housed at the Grace building) is the congregation my mother grew up in. She played the organ at St. Luke's for a number of years in her teens, and my parents were married in the church. So it's a bit like coming home in a spiritual sense.”
The new building is on the same footprint, but it has some additional features that weren't in the original building, Todd said. “Due to building codes and bylaw restrictions, we were restricted to using the same basic footprint; that is the size, shape and dimensions are more or less the same as the old building.
“There are some changes with regard to the internal layout, the most major one being the placement of the main entrance which will now be in the middle of the building.
“When folks enter the building through the main doors they will come into a large, bright lobby area wherefrom one would turn left to go into the sanctuary or right to go into the fellowship hall. Another new feature is a lift (elevator), which will make our new building much more accessible than our old building.”
While insurance is covering most of the rebuild, but there are elements that parishioners will have to support. Todd continues: “We have been abundantly blessed so far, and humbled, by the generosity of our own members, the congregations of our sister churches, and folks in the wider community, in supporting our work of rebuilding with prayer, encouragement, use of space and financial contributions to our rebuilding fund.
"There will most definitely be expenses forthcoming, particularly as concerns replacing the contents that were lost to the fire and water damage. We would be incredibly grateful for any and all gifts and donations. The easiest way to do that is likely through our account on Canada Helps.”
Though they are not meeting now face-to-face due to the pandemic, the Grace United community continues to celebrate together.
“One of the really remarkable and wonderful things about the Grace faith family is their resilience and commitment to stick together through some really tough challenges. Our Zoom worship services are very well attended and valued by the faith family, as it is allowing us to be together in some way, and see each other each week.”
It has been some tough times for this congregation, but now they are anxiously awaiting a return to worship and gathering when it's allowed. Parishioners are watching the assembly of building elements enthusiastically.
“Whenever I post a new photo update on our Facebook group page, there is always great anticipation, enthusiasm and gratitude. Our wonderful crew from JN Construction is very appreciative of the frequent gifts of sweet treats brought to the site by various Grace folks a couple of days a week,” Todd said.
Some items were saved and salvaged. They will be incorporated into the new building.
“Though the vast majority of our treasures and sacred things were sadly lost to the fire and water damage, we are grateful to have been able to save our baptismal font, two communion tables, a cross, some banners … Our plan is to refurbish the pieces and enjoy them in our new space.”
The question everyone is asking: will there be a grand opening and consecration? Is there a date everyone should mark on their calendars? Todd is certainly looking forward to that time. “While there is no firm date for completion or opening, there undoubtedly will be a grand celebration.” She advises readers to stay tuned for details.
If you wish to donate, follow this link: bit.ly/3bkXno3.
The Local Journalism Initiative is made possible through funding from the federal government.
Hugh Kruzel , Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Sudbury Star