For more than a century, the stained glass icon of Saint Andrew has watched over the flock inside the equally iconic church named for him in North Vancouver.
The cornerstone of St. Andrew’s United Church at 10th Street and St. Georges Avenue was laid in 1912. The church was completed for a cost about $35,000, including $2,200 for a second-hand pipe organ.
But if the 110-year-old structure is going to live on as a place of worship, community hub, and a landmark of Central Lonsdale, it’s going to need some help from above. The building’s mechanical and electrical systems and plumbing need to be upgraded, and the boiler is on its last legs. Even though they just spent $100,000 on new shingles to “flicker proof” their exterior walls, the little birds are already poking their heads out of new holes and nesting inside.
“Boy, oh boy, it’s not even all paid for yet,” said Rev. Judith Hardcastle.
But there’s no point in making many more investments when the foundation of the structure crumbles to the touch.
“Our goal really is to start from the ground up and restore it,” said John Eakin, chair of the congregation.
The most recent estimate to lift the church up, build a new seismically sound foundation, and bring everything else up to modern standards was $10 million, and that estimate was from five years ago.
Because it rents the adjacent building out to two schools, financially, the church is self-sufficient to handle operational costs and basic maintenance, but there is no way the congregation or even the United Church of Canada can cover that expense of restoration.
“There’s just not millions sitting in the bank waiting to be put into a building. We wish we had the money, but we don’t,” Eakin said.
They’ve sought out heritage grant funding but not had any luck.
They believe a heritage revitalization agreement with the City of North Vancouver is the best option to save the building. That would most likely involve a developer being granted extra density on a new building site in exchange for money to restore and give protection to the church building.
They pursued an agreement with the city about five years ago, but it never went anywhere.
“That was disappointing,” Hardcastle said.
“We think it's a viable option,” Eakin added. “But we would need a lot more support from the city in making it happen.”
A North Vancouver icon
The city already has the Gothic Revival church on its heritage registry’s A ranking list, but if such an agreement were possible, Hardcastle and the congregation would have to demonstrate that there is a desire from the broader community to see St. Andrew’s saved.
“I think the church looks iconic in this neighborhood. All around us, new condos are being built and we stand out because we're this heritage building. Everybody that comes through the doors just loves the church,” Hardcastle said.
Although former city councillor Guy Heywood is not a member of the congregation, he does volunteer at the church and has been trying to help them find a path forward that would allow the structure to remain.
St. Andrews is probably second only to St. Paul’s Church in the Sḵwx̱wú7mesh Úxwumixw (Squamish Nation) community of Eslhá7an in terms of heritage value, he said.
“History is important,” he said. “We should know where we came from, for better or for worse.”
All are welcome
Everyone on the North Shore, it seems, has a story about the church, imbuing it with tangible heritage value, Hardcastle said. One of the first marriages she performed there was for a man who used to throw paper airplanes from the church balcony during Sunday services as a boy, she noted.
Their community kitchen prepares about 175 meals per week for people in need. They offer up community gardens on the lawn. Musicians seek out the sanctuary because of its incredible acoustics. They’ve shared the space for A.A. meetings, Shambhala Buddhists, Farsi language classes, and too many community service non-profits to name.
“Saint Andrews is really interwoven into the needs of the community, not just the city, but the North Shore, all the way through over the years,” Eakin said.
Jesus probably wouldn’t be overly attached to the building itself, Hardcastle said, but the values he preached are practiced in every room, and that’s what makes it worth saving.
“Sunday worship is a very minor part of what happens here anymore,” she said. “It's a sense of community. That's what it's all about. If you want to get theological – Jesus was a theological guy – he would feed people and make them feel welcome, share the space, all of those things. That's what we're about.”