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Stewiacke church property to become site of new civic building and library

Only the memories of uplifting song, rousing sermons and children’s laughter remained inside the walls of a church along Stewiacke’s main street, as preparations were made for the building to be demolished.

St. Andrew’s United Church has been purchased by the Town of Stewiacke, and the property will become the site of a new civic building and library.

“We’ve been looking for a property for several years,” said Stewiacke Mayor Wendy Robinson. “When I was elected to council 10 years ago we began talking about a new civic building.

“We understood the congregation was dwindling at St. Andrew’s, and when we heard a move was being made to set the church down we let them know we were interested.”

Once the property went on the market, the town called a special meeting to discuss a possible purchase, and then made an offer of $144,000- which was accepted.

“It was the right site and the right size,” said Robinson. “This is a once in a very long-time purchase, and we anticipate it will do us many years.

“The building wouldn’t be salvageable without spending an enormous amount of money. There’s a mud crawl space under the sanctuary, and the sanctuary floor slopes. The new part, that was built in the sixties, leaks. The building has mold in it.”

Things being saved to incorporate into the new building include the bell, lectern, stained glass, plaques beating names of soldiers from the First and Second World Wars, and a beam from the bell tower that has the names of those who built the church on it.

There are plans to donate a framed picture of Rev. William James MacKenzie, and a plaque honouring him, to a Korean church in Halifax. MacKenzie was a missionary in Korea in the 1800’s, and people familiar with his work sometimes visited Stewiacke to have their photo taken next to his portrait.

Some things from the church have gone to other churches, while some have been sold to individuals.

“It’s sad to see the church go because it meant a lot to all of us,” said Robinson. “It’s a church my grandparents helped build, but the change is necessary for the benefit of the community.”

Clearing things out of the building is a sad job for Judy Stoddart, but she realizes it’s time for a change. Fewer than 20 people were attending services recently.

“I have a picture of myself, when I was five months old, on the steps here,” she said. “I went here my entire life. It used to be a busy place.”

Stoddart’s mother was a member of the choir for about 60 years, and her father served as janitor and as an elder. She has held several positions with the church herself.

St. Andrew’s was built in 1877, and was originally a Presbyterian Church. It became a United Church in 1925. An addition was built in 1964, providing space for community gatherings and Sunday School classes.

Although the town hasn’t decided on a look for the new building yet, the amount of space needed for offices and a library has been determined, and there are hopes that construction will begin within the next year.

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