Restoring hope for historic Quebec church

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The Rev. Thora Chadwick says that restoration work on St. George’s, Clarenceville, the oldest wooden church in Quebec, has been a sign of hope in a small community where people can feel marginalized. Photo: Contributed
The Rev. Thora Chadwick says that restoration work on St. George’s, Clarenceville, the oldest wooden church in Quebec, has been a sign of hope in a small community where people can feel marginalized. Photo: Contributed

The tiny parish of St. George’s, Clarenceville, Que. is preparing for the 200th anniversary of its church building in 2018 by doing some restoration work.

Erected between 1818 and 1820, the church is the oldest wooden church in Quebec, but the Rev. Thora Chadwick, who serves as the rector in a three-point parish with two nearby other churches, said the wood on the exterior of the building is in very bad shape and is in need of some urgent restoration. “The paint has been peeling…. Because [the church] was registered as historic, it couldn’t just be painted, and each winter that goes by makes the problem much worse.”

The cost of restoring the foundation and exterior is estimated to be about $300,000. Fortunately, the Quebec government has approved a grant to cover 70% of the costs. Work on the foundation, which cost more than $100,000, has already been completed, using some funds from a trust fund with money remaining from the sale of the rectory in Clarenceville. The next phase of the government grant will cover $138,000, leaving the parish to find funding for the remainder.

Chadwick said the parishioners want to raise as much of the required money as possible before beginning the work, but it is a challenge for a tiny congregation where many of the parishioners are now too elderly to attend every Sunday or help with fundraising events and young families are not attending regularly. Clarenceville has about 1,200 residents, but she said there are often only three or four people at Sunday services (which rotate between the three churches), noting that St. Thomas, Noyan still has about a dozen parishioners who attend regularly. She was also pleased to see about 50 people attend a blessing of the animals service recently.

Fundraising efforts so far have benefitted from a $10,000 anonymous donation and proceeds from a performance of a local Swiss German men’s choir. Chadwick hopes that additional donations may come in at some special evensong services that will feature an organist playing the church’s antique organ. The parish is also seeking other sources of funding.

Though the numbers might not seem to warrant this new investment, Chadwick said there are historic and human reasons to go forward with the restoration.

Historically, the parish, which straddles the U.S. border with St. Luke’s, Alburgh on the Vermont side, was home to United Empire Loyalists. The exterior of the church with a belfry that Chadwick says “looks like a wedding cake” has changed very little since construction was completed in 1820.

Changes made about 1850 reflect changes in Anglicanism, she said. “There was an addition made on the east end to incorporate what we expect to find now in churches, to find an altar and a stained glass window over it,” she said. “The Oxford movement that started earlier in the 19th century recovered a lot of the more catholic [style] worship,” she explained. Before that, Chadwick said the north end of the church had had “one of those three-decker kinds of things with a pulpit on the top, then there was a communion table at the bottom and a place for a clerk to assist the minister.”

She suggested that the contemporary community also has reasons to want to restore and maintain the church. People in the small community where many young people move away feel marginalized, she said. “This work that was done is a sign of hope for the community.”

The church is also a point of contact with tourists and other people outside the church, Chadwick noted, explaining that whenever the church is obviously open, cars stop and people ask if they can come and look around. “They are very quiet and respectful. Sometimes they take pictures, but they seem very pleased and surprised to see the beauty of these little churches. All three are lovely in their own way,” she said. “I think they are really pilgrims who don’t know it.”

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Leigh Anne Williams
Leigh Anne Williams joined the Anglican Journal in 2008 as a part-time staff writer. She also works as the Canadian correspondent for Publishers Weekly, a New York-based trade magazine for the book publishing. Prior to this, Williams worked as a reporter for the Canadian bureau of TIME Magazine, news editor of Quill & Quire, and a copy editor at The Halifax Herald, The Globe and Mail and The Bay Street Bull.

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