Cause of $ 500,000 fire remains unknown, congregation members determine next steps
For Lorraine Hook, the huge void left by a fire that destroyed a historic church in Tay Township will be difficult to fill.
“It’s devastating,” Hook says, walking through the charred remains where Ebenezer United Church once stood proudly.
“It’s very difficult at the moment. It’s a disaster. There is nothing there. “
Hook, who is chair of the board of trustees of Ebenezer United Church, has attended church for over 70 years and notes that it has had an indelible impact on the lives of so many over the years.
“I’ve been going there since I was a baby,” says Hook, who notes that his parents once owned much of the nearby farmland.
“The church was the center of our community since it is an agricultural community.
Over its 135 year history, the small wooden church has become an important meeting place, including in the fight against Site 41 with many members playing an active role in the campaign to stop the regional landfill project. a dozen years ago.
He also maintained a steady place in the hearts and minds of the locals as they attended regular services as well as lively celebrations like baptisms and weddings and darker occasions as they honored their relatives during the funeral.
Hook recalls many of these memories as she walks along the grounds as the snow gently falls and a cold breeze winds its way through the adjacent farm fields.
She pointed to a still steaming filing cabinet, which contained many of the early church records, and long planks of charred wood.
“We’re hoping we can cut some of the burnt wood and make a cross,” says Hook, who also points to a nearby wooden bench that somehow escaped the fire and recognizes the Montgomery side of his family tree.
While some of the records remain in digital format and through collected stories, including baptismal records from 1917 to the present, which Hook kept in her home given her penchant for history and genealogy, there are some things that simply cannot be replaced.
And this intangible is really the feeling that one has when one entered the historical structure and that one felt the kinship of one’s parishioners.
“My daughters (Tonya and Katherine) went to Sunday school there,” says Hook, whose parents Grant and Marjorie Fagan were also heavily involved in the church.
“We had strawberry suppers, pork suppers, pancake brunches there. Sometimes we would get together to play cards or games there.
Another church member, Elsie Wood, says the place of the church in the fabric of the community cannot be underestimated.
“There’s a closeness you wouldn’t get in a large town church,” says Wood, who has attended church services at the church since 1957. “My children and grandchildren have all been involved in the church. .
“We weren’t a big congregation, but we were pretty dedicated. He identified our community. It was our little village.
With around 35 congregation members today, the church has not had a regular minister since 2014 and has relied on “pulpit supply” to lead services in the interim.
And ahead of the holiday season, Hook notes that the church was already decorated for Christmas, with the congregation recognizing the first Sunday of Advent last weekend.
“We had the crib and the Christmas tree up,” Hook said, noting that members were scheduled to bring clothes and food for the less fortunate next Sunday.
“It’s a difficult season because it’s Christmas.
Shawn Aymer, fire chief for the Township of Tay, says they are unable to determine the cause of the blaze which caused damage estimated at $ 500,000.
“We don’t have a lot of information because of the extent of the damage,” says Aymer. “She was already fully engaged when we arrived.
Hook says the church was heated with electricity and they never used candles during worship.
“We didn’t have propane or fuel oil,” she says. “I don’t know if we’ll ever know how it started.”
Hook says parishioners are still reeling from Monday morning’s fire, which means it’s a bit too early to determine what their next steps as a congregation might be in terms of finding a new location to organize services.
“It just happened and we’re still trying to deal with it,” she says, noting that St. Paul’s United Church in Midland has offered to help.
“Maybe in four or five days we will have a better idea. We will have to think about it to find a place.
As for the rebuilding of the church, Hook is not sure whether they are allowed to use the existing footprint since the foundation of the church is located right next to the intersection of Ebenezer Sideroad and Ron Jones. Road. This close location was not a problem when the church was built in 1886, as the roads were not as wide and people were walking, riding or arriving in horse-drawn carriages for services.
And whether they rebuild or not, a lot of it will depend on how quickly things go through insurance, Hook says.
As for the immediate future, there is the void felt by Hook and the other members when it comes to what to do next Sunday.
While some may find solace and choose to pray in nearby churches, Hook expects some to pause to reflect.
“I guess I’ll wake up on Sunday morning and see how I feel before I decide what to do,” Hook says. “We’re going to get over it, but right now it looks like the death of a loved one.”