South Dundas Anglicans looking at next steps for St. James Church

MORRISBURG – Parishioners of one of the oldest churches in South Dundas are now at a cross roads of what to do with their church.

The Anglican Parish of South Dundas released its building assessment of the historic St. James Anglican Church to its membership at a meeting held with parish members after the first in-person service since March was held on September 2nd. A follow up online meeting was held for parish members who could not attend in person.

“The situation is not dire,” said Reverend Dr. Jon Martin from Anglican Parish of South Dundas. “The building has identified needs that are immediate, and some that are long term. But it is not going to collapse or anything like that.”

Martin explained that more immediate needs include the chimney and the steeple.

“The way it was explained is we are located on a fault line and if there was a significant seismic event, that chimney would fall down,” he said. “The steeple has some issues as well and would likely be damaged.”

The building assessment, which was commissioned by the parish and the Anglican Diocese of Ottawa, identified repairs and modifications to the building that would cost between $2.5 and $4 million.

“We don’t have to spend that at once,” Martin said. “But long term, as we grow the ministry here, this is an estimate of what we have to spend.”

Another issue identified in the report is the basement, which pre-pandemic was home of the Sunday School, a kitchen, and meeting space where winter church services were held.

“Basements in 130 year old churches weren’t designed for these kinds of uses,” Martin explained. “There are ventilation and water issues.”

Addressing the basement issues would require significant work to upgrade the space, which Martin said would be better spent on adding a new hall to the existing building instead.

“We don’t know what that would look like,” he said. “That could be something on the front of the building, or tying into the side areas and the back.”

Maintaining the historical look of the church is extremely important in the discussion process.

“St. James is a community landmark. It has heritage and importance to the community, even if you’re not a member of this church,” Martin said. “Whatever is decided by the parish and diocese, it has to maintain the look and feel of this church.”

The idea behind a new modern space that ties in with the 130 year old building, is to have a new area for the expanding ministry of the church, that doubles as community use space for outside groups. The parish operates the Apple Tree Ministry with a monthly community meal program (Martha’s Kitchen), a monthly clothing program (Martha’s Closet) and other outreach.

“This would be great to be a place where we can host concerts, or be a meeting space,” he said, highlighting the diocese’s St. Clare’s Anglican Church in Winchester. “When we undertook those discussions in Winchester, one of the draws was that the Winchester hospital could host training sessions in the church space. It is a multi-functional space.”

He said that those types of partnerships is what he would like to see happen in South Dundas with St. James Anglican.

“It’s not about saying this is a church, and whatever you do has to conform to our space here,” Martin said. “It’s about saying we have this space, it’s a church, but what can it be for your space needs.”

Within the larger price tag are projects like the building envelope repairs, which will also address the steeple and chimney issues. Those repairs and re-pointing the stone work is estimated to be $1 million. Another maintenance item identified is restoring the many stained glass windows in the church.

“The longer we hold off on addressing smaller issues, the bigger repair costs they will be,” said Martin adding that the rose window on the building’s southern wall already has a fund set up to help pay for some of those costs.

Other updates include audio and video improvements, removing the pews to convert the main church space into something that is easily used for different events, and HVAC work.

“Audio and video has become very important for continuing church services during the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Martin.

From now until the advent season, Martin said the parish will be connecting with outside user groups and the municipality, along with its parishioners to see what the church space can be for others.

Once advent season arrives, the parish and diocese will work on developing a plan for the church.

“I’m looking forward to this process and seeing what comes of it,” Martin said.

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