A new roof for “the little church that could”
In a certain churchyard in the Diocese of New Westminster, there stands an extremely busy hall that—according to structural engineers—must be liberated from three layers of deteriorating shingles before it can hope to keep the community who depends on it comfortable and dry.
“Our hope,” says the Rev. Emilie Smith, priest at St. Barnabas Anglican Church since 2013, “is that this year we won’t have to have buckets catching rainwater during our Christmas Day meal.” Smith struggles for words when she talks about the parish’s 100-year-old hall, its roof, and the burden it bears.
“The roof has been just…,” says Smith, followed by silence and a long, despairing sigh, “…its best before date was about 15 years ago. It leaks on the United Church congregation which shares our hall, and it leaks on our food cupboard.”
Early estimates for a thorough repair, including the removal of all the old shingles, went as high as six figures, leaving everyone at St. Barnabas feeling discouraged. “We thought it was going to be impossible,” says Smith. “We are not a church with deep pockets, or investments that can help us through these kinds of things.” And, she explains, “The hall is where everything happens. The church is the centre of who we are, but the hall is the heart.”
Established in 1891 as a church for working people, St. Barnabas has been a neighbourhood church for 130 years. According to Smith, “We are connected to everybody who lives in the neighbourhood, whether they come to our worship services or not.”
St. Barnabas’ hall hosts the most popular daycare in New Westminster, which cares for about sixty children, and the hall is home to numerous recovery groups. “There’s a different group here every day, sometimes twice a day,” says Smith, who has been trained in the use of the church’s naloxone kit. While she has never had to use the life-saving device, she says seeing it mounted on the wall serves as a strong reminder of “who we are” and how the parish has been called to serve community members who struggle with addiction and other challenges.
Not to be forgotten, of course, is that the hall is the operational hub for the church’s food security programs—running strong for nearly three decades. During the COVID-19 pandemic, the service model evolved to include a grab-and-go grocery program that fed eighty families per week for a year and a half.
If one were to count all the people in New Westminster who depend on St. Barnabas for some form of comfort or security, there are well over a thousand reasons to fix the roof and to fix it quickly.
Thankfully, after months of searching for a solution to the roofing woes, a more affordable estimate finally came in—one that has been lessened by community connections, including a retired roofer who is willing to pitch in. “And we are very grateful to the Anglican Foundation of Canada for a $10,000 grant this past spring,” says Smith.
Everyone at St. Barnabas is feeling much more hopeful about the new roof. Sighs of relief will soon replace sighs of despair and “the little church that could” will keep chugging right along. Construction is scheduled to begin at the end of September or early October, which means that Smith’s Christmas dream, the one that doesn’t include pails and buckets as surplus decorations, may soon be a reality.
In the past decade, AFC has provided grants and loans totaling nearly $1 million for parish hall projects. “Investing in churches like St. Barnabas strengthens communities from coast to coast to coast,” says the Rev. Canon Dr. Judy Rois, Executive Director, AFC. “We imagine an increased role for churches in a post-pandemic world, which means that now, more than ever, AFC needs to be a supportive partner, providing abundant resources for pandemic recovery.”
AFC is committed to investing in an accessible, safe, comfortable, and environmentally sustainable church that truly welcomes everyone. We are grateful to all AFC supporters for helping to make investments like this one possible. Behind every grant is a generous gift. Thank you!