Saving the oldest church in Quebec

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An Anglican congregation has been worshipping at St. James since 1823. Photo: Bruce Myers

The Quebec government is pledging $1.7 million to restore St. James’ Anglican Church in Trois-Rivieres, Que. Once Roman Catholic, the church and rectory are reputedly the oldest in the province. An Anglican congregation has been worshipping there since at least 1823.

The total cost of the project, which involves transforming the church into a cultural centre, is $2.5 million. The City of Trois-Rivieres is footing the balance of the bill ($800,000) and assuming ownership of the church building and adjacent rectory.

Happily, the St. James congregation will continue using the church for worship and other gatherings in perpetuity-in spite of not being able to afford the cost of repairing and restoring the historic buildings.

The agreement, which is being hailed as a model, looks to be a win-win-win for all parties. “We will be freed from the heavy financial burden related to maintaining and repairing the buildings,” says the Rev. Yves Samson, pastor of St. James.

Quebec culture minister Christine St-Pierre called the venture “wonderful. We’re protecting the church…and at the same time giving it another vocation.”

Both the city and the church will benefit, according to Yves Levesque, the mayor of Trois-Rivieres, since opening St. James to the wider community “will allow people to discover the Anglican religion and the Anglican community.” What’s more, the arrangement could serve as a model for church and state working together to preserve religious heritage in Quebec, noted Minister St-Pierre at a news conference held at St. James.

Although many items of liturgical furniture will remain in the church, the pews will be removed to make the space more flexible, permitting its use as a venue for concerts, plays and other creative and performance arts programs. A museum and interpretation centre will also be created, highlighting the long history of the site, notably its religious significance-both Roman Catholic and Anglican. The adjacent rectory will be transformed into residences for visiting artists.

Originally built as part of a Roman Catholic Recollet mission during the French regime in the mid-1700s, the church was rededicated to St. James the Apostle by Anglicans after the English conquest.

A signing ceremony that formally handing over ownership of the buildings from the diocese to the city took place on Nov. 23. Repair work on the buildings could begin as early as this spring. The city has promised that the renovations will interrupt the Anglican community’s Sunday worship as little as possible.

Bruce Myers is editor of the Quebec Diocesan Gazette.

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