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US Embassy’s funds restore St. Mary’s Anglican Church in Bequia

US Embassy’s funds restore St. Mary’s Anglican Church in Bequia

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The once dilapidated St. Mary’s Anglican Church in Port Elizabeth, Bequia, is being restored; and although the restoration project has only seen the completion of Phase One, the church is already being transformed into a beautiful edifice.{{more}}

Louise Mitchell-Joseph, a trustee of the St. Mary’s Anglican Church Restoration Trust (“the Trust”), said the restoration of the Church, which was built in 1829, was made possible almost entirely because of the funding provided by the US Embassy Ambassadors’ Fund for Cultural Preservation. The purpose of this fund is to assist in addressing cultural issues and to demonstrate United States cultural tolerance and cultural openess. The US uses this fund to help preserve the cultures of other countries as an integral part of its foreign policy.

“The US assistance helped us to achieve the main objective of the project, which was to replace the roof. With the roof in the condition that it was, the church was just deteriorating rapidly,” said Mitchell-Joseph, noting that the grant from the US Embassy allowed the Trust to complete Phase One of the project.

The grant, provided by the US Embassy for Barbados and the Eastern Caribbean, amounted to EC$212,324.60 or US$79,000, which was complemented by local donations of EC$22,861.63.

The construction was done by a local contractor from Bequia, Hutchinson Construction, and throughout the project, residents of Bequia made donations. Mitchell-Joseph has commended Alvin James, Rose Simmons, Elizabeth Clayton, Caribbean Woods, the Bequia Mission and Bequia Venture Co Ltd. for their contributions, while reiterating that 90 per cent of the funds were provided by the US Embassy.

She expressed that the church has been at the heart of the history and culture of Bequia.

“This is where we have our Harvest; this is where we baptize our children; when somebody dies, this is where we go. The Church is more than a religious symbol. It is definitely at the heart of the tradition and heritage of Bequia,” she told SEARCHLIGHT.

Mitchell-Joseph also decribed the building as one of Bequia’s historical landmarks. She said when one walks along the waterfront, people can be seen drifting in and out of the Church, even though they are not necessarily religious people.

Phase One of the project focused mainly on replacing the roof of the Church and other basic restoration work, including the cleaning of the building and painting.

The first hurdle faced by the project team was the discovery that the Church roof was made of asbestos and that its removal would require a contractor who had experience in dealing with such dangerous materials.

The roof has been replaced and the church is now fit for use.

Mitchell-Joseph said the first church service since the restoration project began was held on Christmas Eve. She said parishioners were all very happy with the work done to the church.

Despite the completion of Phase One, other challenges remain.

Mitchell-Joseph said the cost of the project to date has greatly exceeded the original estimate. Hence, the decision was taken to put the church back into working order, while the Trust takes its time to come up with a plan and a budget for the second phase, for which funding will now be sought. She said the funds remaining are limited and will be used towards media coverage, publicity and fund raising ventures.

Mitchell-Joseph disclosed that it has come to the attention of the Trust that substantive restoration work is required for the walls of the Church. She noted that the Trust will not proceed to tamper with the walls unless and until it receives the advice of a restoration expert.

She added that several structural changes were made at the back of the church over the years, which are not aesthetically pleasing. However, the advice of both a restoration expert (architect) and engineer are needed before the Trust attempts to undo some of the “awful changes made over the years”.

An assessment of the building shows all of the wooden windows need replacing. This part of the project, unlike the walls, is considered to be straightforward. She said the stained-glass windows also need to be restored.

The Trust also intends to create beautiful gardens surrounding the church and plans to erect a traditional wrought-iron fence.

Erected on the walls outside the church is a sign which gives an artist’s impression of how the Church will look after the restoration is completed and which acknowledges that the project is funded by the US Embassy.

The Trust is planning another thanksgiving service in the near future and extending an invitation to the Embassy to return to Bequia to see the work done to date.

“The fact that it is restored, I hope that it will bring new light to Bequia. You find that a lot of the traditional values in Bequia are deteriotating…. The idea is, if the Church is vibrant and functioning, and is a beautiful cultural space where people can go to have concerts and to gather, my hope is that will actually lift the spiritual element and it will lift society back up to a higher level because right now it appears to be going downhill,” said Mitchell-Joseph.

The other trustees of the project are Tiare Zoffili and Ruby Ollivierre. In addition to the trustees who manage the project, there is a project committee which includes Euthan McIntosh, Archdeacon Charles Adams, Myrtle James, Jem Maloney, Patsy Chambers, Richard Blunden and Nathan Lewis. (HN)

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