A chance encounter opens up some eyes
Rev Thomas Dunbar
Main Street United Church
The fingers of both her hands were clasped tightly on the chain link fence as she watched intently the men and machines hard at work. She was obviously deep in her own thoughts and yet she was like so many others who came to see the once magnificent Main Street United Church building being demolished. Abruptly she turned and began to walk away while still staring at the events behind the fence. I too, had been standing nearby, watching intently and wondering what the future held, when she slammed into me sending the contents of her purse to the ground. As we gathered up the contents she was quite mortified and spoke rapidly. She had not been inside for years but fondly remembered Sunday school, morning services and her wedding. Newly married she moved away and only came back today because she was in town visiting family. It was not an uncommon story, which she elaborated upon once she found out I was the current minister. That’s when the questions began. She had heard lots of chatter and rumours as is bound to happen in any community. So, during the next few minutes she willingly listened attentively to the facts.
Main Street United Church is not closed, I explained. In fact, it is thriving and meets every Sunday at Lockhart’s Reception Centre. The church building was never condemned but a structural engineering firm did deem it unsafe to occupy as “catastrophic failure was immanent”. Primarily this was due to dry rot in the massive wood beams placed in the additions over 100 years ago although there were numerous other serious issues too.
No, it was not the minister or the United Church of Canada’s decision to demolish or to rebuild. It was a difficult decision but after hearing all the details about the structural problems and the high cost to fix them, the congregation voted overwhelmingly to demolish and build new on the same spot. Building new was, by far, the most economical and practical alternative given the significant size of this very active congregation.
A special committee is hard at work right now researching plans and will present their findings this fall when the rest of the congregation will be able to add their thoughts. All are very committed to building an affordable, practical and community minded building that will be used by more groups than just the congregation. A fully accessible building, that is open and welcoming for all is the plan. A place where the many ministries of Main Street United Church can continue to grow as the need arises in Mitchell and where the spiritually curious can learn of Jesus Christ active in the world today. I confessed I was particularly fond of that last part.
She was sincerely pleased and said so. She was also very happy that so much of the original structure was able to be salvaged and reused elsewhere. From the slate roof, to the bricks, the floorboards and the church pews: all will continue.
“That’s really nice,” she said “and very much United Church to be so environmentally sound.”
Then came the questions about money. I knew they would as this was not the first or the last conversation I would have by the fence.
Things were beginning to happen, I explained. A fundraising committee was busily preparing for the upcoming capital campaign and, more importantly, people both inside and outside the congregation, were showing positive and hopeful attitudes towards a new building. Many had been asking about contributing and some had even stepped forward already.
It was no longer “Can we build new?” but “When we build…”. Church grants, bonds, loans, events and, of course, outright donations by community and faith-minded individuals are all part of the diverse fundraising aims.
“Impressive,” she said “and it’s not surprising either.”
“Main Street United has always been about faithful people making a difference in the community. It sounds like the new church building will be true to that sentiment.”
She went on “I see now why people are becoming excited.”
As she left I couldn’t help but thinking of those early followers of Jesus, 2000 years ago. Mourning the loss at first but then realizing the future looked bright indeed. A small town church building certainly doesn’t compare with the enormity of the Good News, but it is a good reminder that, in dark times or light, God is always with us. We are never alone.
To donate or simply stay informed of what’s happening at Main Street United Church just send an email request to firstname.lastname@example.org or call the office at 519-348-8882.