Anglicans, others step up to help fire-stricken Manitoba parish

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St. John’s Anglican Church burned to the ground April 18 after fire spread from its malfunctioning furnace. Photo: RCMP Manitoba

Editor’s note: This story has been updated with comments from Lydia Mamakwa, bishop of the Indigenous Spiritual Ministry of Mishamikoweesh.

At least one diocese has begun raising funds to support a northern Manitoba parish whose church burned to the ground earlier this month.

St. John’s Anglican Church in Shamattawa First Nation, Man., was destroyed in a fire caused by a malfunctioning furnace April 18. No one was hurt, but the church’s priest, the Rev. Mary Ann Miles, said in an interview with the Anglican Journal that all the church property was lost in the fire—the building and everything in it, from church records to vestments and other items.

“It’s very difficult right now, because I don’t have a church. I lost everything in the fire,” she said.

Since the incident, the 30-member congregation has been worshipping at another Christian church in the community, which has offered to share its space with them, she said. But parishioners were attached to their old church, and they hope to rebuild it.

“Our community is devastated, but ready to rebuild from the ashes,” Miles wrote on a GoFundMe Internet fundraising page.

“We need to raise money to purchase the building materials to be shipped in on the winter road next winter. Then it can be rebuilt the following summer.”

It’s too early to say how much it will cost to rebuild the church, Miles said. An insurance investigation was still underway as of press time Friday, April 27. Also as of Friday, the GoFundMe campaign had raised $250 of its $50,000 target.

The Indigenous Spiritual Ministry of Mishamikoweesh is helping with fundraising, she said. Meanwhile, people from nearby communities, as well as Anglicans and members of other denominations from as far away as the U.S. have been contacting her and offering to help, Miles said.

On Thursday, April 26, John Watton, bishop of Central Newfoundland, announced through Twitter that the diocese was planning to help replace some of the items lost in the fire.

In the days after the blaze, Watton said, a number of people from different parishes in his diocese emailed him, wondering if they could help. He contacted Lydia Mamakwa, bishop of the Indigenous Spiritual Ministry of Mishamikoweesh, to which St. John’s church belongs, to let her know the diocese was praying for them and to ask how they could assist. Mamakwa, he said, told him the parish was in urgent need of Bibles, prayer books, a chalice and a paten—as well as prayers.

The diocese, he said, would provide the chalice and paten, and is inviting its parishioners to make donations for the purchase of about 30 new Bibles and prayer books. “We just want them to let them know that we care about them, and that’s one way to do it,” Watton said.

Watton said he had no doubt enough funds would be raised to do that within a few days. Any excess money, he said, would be forwarded on to the Indigenous Spiritual Ministry of Mishamikoweesh to help the parish recover.

Mamakwa said Watton’s offer was very kind, and it meant a lot to Mishamikoweesh. She echoed Miles’s hope that enough funds would eventually be raised to rebuild the church.

“We’re hoping that the church will be built,” she said. “In any community or reserve the church is part of the community…They will want to rebuild for sure.”

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Tali Folkins
Tali Folkins has worked as a staff reporter for the Law Times and the New Brunswick Telegraph-Journal. His writing has appeared in The Globe and Mail and The United Church Observer.

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