UPDATE on The Church By The Sea
The struggle to save one of the oldest built heritage structures in the Town of Portugal Cove – St. Phillips (PCSP) and a designated Municipal Heritage Building, has come to a sad end. The old church was unnecessarily demolished September/October 2015 by the Parish and Diocese – even though The CBTS raised funds and developed sustainable proposals to restore the building and to make it part of the town’s tourism development plan, with no financial cost or obligation from the Anglican parish or the Town of PCSP.
The CBTS, along with many supporters, worked hard to educate church leaders and municipal politicians on the historic and cultural value of this building. These ideas were ultimately rejected, and the St. Philip’s 1894 Anglican Church was demolished at an estimated cost of $100,000 to the parish.
The CBTS is considering its options for the future. That is, how we will proceed in remembering the old church and dispensing its current (and future) funds.
c/o 40 Exmouth Street
St. John’s, NL A1B 2E2
The Church by the Sea
The St. Philip’s Anglican Church was built in 1893 by the ancestors of many residents of Portugal Cove-St. Philip’s; it was consecrated in 1894 hence referred to as the St. Philip’s 1894 Church. Most of the builders and their descendents were christened, confirmed and married in the old Church, and buried in its cemetery. It is undeniably part of the heritage of the town and has become a popular landmark because of its beauty and scenic surroundings. Indeed its historic location is part of the reason for its Heritage designation.
In 2002, the Parish decided that a new church plus Parish hall complex would be built to serve the Parish community. In March the Diocesan Synod of Eastern NL passed a motion that when the new church was built, the old Church and Parish Hall would be disposed of (definition “disposed of”: give, sell, or transfer to another; throw or cast away). However, most parishioners were not consulted or aware of this decision.
The 1894 church continued to serve the community until 2003, when services began in the new church that was built within the same parish property. Some parts of the 1894 church were removed and placed in the new church, but otherwise it remained virtually untouched other than a rental period for a TV/Movie production, and a recycling program. The parish hall was sold.
Beginnings of The Church By The Sea
Before and especially during 2002 parishioners discussed the fate of the old church and their desire to save it. In late 2008, parishioners became aware that possibly there were plans being made to demolish the old church in the immediate future. This came as a surprise, great disappointment and shock to many parishioners, community members and others. The Church By The Sea Committee began at that time, consisting of parishioners and a former parishioner (including two former Select Vestry members and a sitting Select Vestry member).
In the months that followed, the committee grew to include other community members who knew the heritage building could be saved. The committee became more informed and knowledgeable about the historic building; and ways to secure public and private funding. They also explored options that could provide long term financial viability, such as a parish and community museum or cultural centre. A legacy plan was presented to the Rector for the Vestry, offering to accept responsibility in perpetuity, financially and otherwise, under the guidance of the Parish; but was not granted.
Demolition Permit Rejection and Steeple Toppling
In 2010 the Anglican Parish made a permit request to the Town of PCSP to demolish the 1894 church. On March 30 2010 this request was strongly rejected by the Town Council, to the loud applause of a full capacity of residents in the public gallery. However early the following morning March 31 the steeple was maliciously cut and toppled from the 1894 church. The Parish refused to request a police investigation, so it is still officially unknown who took this action of major vandalism.
The 1894 Church Designated a Municipal Heritage Building
In reaction to the steeple being torn down, the Town Council held an emergency meeting March 31 afternoon and designated the St. Philip’s 1894 Church a Municipal Heritage building, which had been recommended in the preceding few years by the Town’s Heritage Advisory Committee – hopefully helping to protect the historic church from any more harm. Regrettably the Anglican Diocese and Parish appealed these two Town decisions (to reject the demolition permit request; and to designate the church a Heritage Building) to the Municipal Affairs Appeal Board. Fortunately the Appeal Board decided in July 2010 that the Town was within their rights and both Town decisions stand.
Bishop states he Supports Preservation, The Church By The Sea Offers Help
Since that time,The Church By The Sea Inc. has been trying to work with the Town, Parish and Diocese to move forward the restoration and preservation of the old church. On October 19, 2010, the Bishop of the Anglican Diocese of Eastern NL made a statement to Town representatives that there will be restoration of the old church and the steeple will be replaced. The Bishop confirmed this in November at a meeting with The Church By The Sea Inc., which has assembled a qualified team of professionals who are ready and willing to complete the preservation and restoration, along with many other supporters and volunteers.
However Little Progress on Preservation
Although some progress has been made in preserving the 1894 church there is still much to be done. The steeple has been placed on pallets off the ground by concerned citizens. In January 2011, the Diocese and Parish requested through the Town that The Church by the Sea Inc. cover and protect the top of the church tower that had been damaged when the steeple was maliciously toppled. In February the construction materials were donated and professionals, volunteering with The Church by the Sea Inc., happily completed this task.
However, there has been little movement since that time, as the Diocese, Parish and Town have stalled in their negotiations on a Memorandum of Understanding concerning the 1894 church. The PCSP Town had requested to the Diocese to have The Church By The Sea Inc. heritage group to be part of these discussions, however the Diocese refused. Therefore The Church By The Sea Inc. has been left out, although we have much to add and offer to this process. Meanwhile, the church steeple is still on the ground, and not in its rightful place on top of the church tower; and the heritage church building as a whole is being allowed to deteriorate by the Diocese and Parish.
Progress is Possible
The Church By The Sea Inc. organization is very grateful for all the support it is being given, including help through many volunteers, as numerous people recognize that keeping the heritage church has many benefits. In instances of church reuse, businesses, organizations and parishes that use such renovated spaces create employment, while the buildings are attractions in the Parishes and communities that benefit from increased visitor traffic. Reuse of heritage buildings means that the once integral parts of a community are given a second chance to shine, and that the spirit and stories of these places will live on. The Church By The Sea Inc. will continue to work with others to ensure this historic building is preserved and restored as a heritage landmark and becomes a vibrant part of the community, once again to be a beacon to the people.