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Fire Turns to Blessings for St. Matthew’s Presbyterian Church
   Oct. 6, 2020, was a good day for St. Matthew’s Presbyterian Church. After almost a year of being on the ground for repairs, the steeple was put back in place.
St. Matthew’s Presbyterian Church in Grand Falls-Windsor, N.L., was with- out its steeple for almost a year. It was removed soon after the fire in October 2019 so that repairs could be made on the ground.
and social media. Offers of space for our services came from two other churches. The Grand Falls-Windsor Heritage Society offered assistance in dealing with damaged documents and also made a donation. In mid-De- cember, when the church was broken into and tools of one of the volunteers were stolen, a man in Mount Pearl (more than 400 kilometres away) heard about it and offered surplus tools from his construction company, his only connection being that his wife is originally from Grand Falls-Windsor. He also made a financial contribution.
The local theatre has offered to host a movie night with proceeds going to the church. The Parish Pastoral Coun- cil of the Roman Catholic Cathedral earmarked St. Matthew’s as the re- cipient of the collection from its 2019 Advent offering envelopes. It turned out to be the most ever contributed by its congregation to its Advent offering. More recently, the Odd Fellows Lodge donated the proceeds of a moose- burger sale.
Some of the support we received we had known about in advance, but others had been a surprise—like the cheque that arrived in the mail from a church in Ontario whose minister served St. Matthew’s for two years in the 1980s.
Individuals have also wanted to help. Aimee Doiron, organist at St. Matthew’s for the past 20 years, held a Christmas recital of her piano and voice students and they donated the ticket proceeds to the restoration
fund. Other donations have come from former members, some of whom maintain a connection through family in the congregation. Still oth- ers have a relationship with St. Mat- thew’s through their own churches or simply have a soft spot for the oldest church building in the town. A 100-year-old Corner Brook man was one of those with a soft spot, having attended services at St. Matthew’s as a child with his parents on their drives across the island to St. John’s to visit relatives.
Support has taken other forms as well. One church invited our wom- en’s group, the Thistle Club, to share in fellowship on two occasions. Lo- cal newspaper, radio and television reporters have been good to us, sharing our story with the province and beyond, as has the Presbyterian Connection and the AMS publication, The Presbyterian Message. At the invitation of a committee working to convert a former convent into a hos- pice, our last two monthly services before the onset of COVID-19 were held in their chapel.
It’s no wonder we feel blessed.
Receiving such kindnesses in- creased our own determination to continue to help others through the community outreach program start- ed by St. Matthew’s in 2018. We didn’t miss a service between the time of the fire and the March shut- down brought about by COVID-19. The local food bank and Salvation Army benefited from the non-perish- ables and clothing collected at these services. During this time, we also took an active role in the World Day of Prayer service and the Canadian Bible Society’s Festival of Praise.
As work continues on the restora- tion, other churches have resumed in-church services, following health authority regulations. St. Matthew’s must make its decision about resum- ing services based on what is best for our small and aging congregation. No matter what comes first, comple- tion of the church or resumption of services in another location, we look forward to re-establishing our con- nection with the community that has supported us.
By Lynne Allan, Elder, St. Matthew’s Presbyterian Church in Grand Falls- Windsor, N.L.
Advent has begun and Christmas will soon be upon us. It’s the season of giving and receiving, and the perfect time for the congregation of St. Mat- thew’s Presbyterian Church in Grand Falls-Windsor, N.L., to reflect on the past year and count our blessings, for we have many and have received much.
It started with a fire on the night of Oct. 18, 2019. By the time it was out hours later, the sanctuary and some contents were destroyed by fire, smoke and water. The rest of the building and contents were badly damaged.
No one was feeling blessed as we watched smoke rise from the steeple where a hole had been chopped for fire hose access, but looking back, that very night was the beginning. As congregation members and oth- ers watched the firefighters do their
job, the minister of the church located next door reached out. “Whatever you need,” she said. “A place to worship, a room for a meeting, whatever you need.” With our next monthly service just over a week away, we took the Rev. Kim up on her offer.
When the structure of the church was deemed sound, the insurance process began and the adjuster worked with us, offering advice and was only a phone call away when we had questions. Three days after the fire, at the opening worship service of the Synod of the Atlantic Provinces annual meeting, it was announced that the offering would be given to St. Matthew’s. Meanwhile, the owner of a local construction company had de- cided he would provide free labour for the church restoration project, aug- menting a small group of volunteers. On Oct. 30, the steeple was brought down for repairs and work had begun.
News of the fire, the damage and the restoration spread by word of mouth and through both mainstream
The Grand Falls-Windsor Heritage Society is one of the organizations that has pro- vided support for the restoration of St. Matthew’s church. Terry Burke, Heritage Society Treasurer, holds a picture of the church from its early days. Lynne Allan, treasurer of St. Matthew’s, holds a photo of the church before the fire. St. Mat- thew’s was designated the Town of Grand Falls-Windsor’s first municipal heritage building in 2005.

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