Congregation votes to look at new opportunities


St. Andrew’s congregation decided Sunday to journey in faith and close the doors on its building on the corner of Owen and Worsley streets and look for new possibilities.

Hit by arson on Feb. 19, 2023, St. Andrew’s Barrie’s Christian Education wing has had to be gutted, with walls torn back to the brick and interior studs. Clean-up after the $2.5-million fire also had to include asbestos removal work; confined and undisturbed, asbestos is safe, but once disturbed, it must be removed. Asbestos was in the 1920s addition, known as Memorial Hall and colloquially as the Christian Education wing, and in tiles in the basement kitchen, located under the sanctuary.

This is not the first site the faith community, which dates back to 1843, has had in the city core. Initially, the Presbyterians met in the Wesleyan Methodist chapel (now Collier Street United), then in a frame church located on the north side of Collier Street at Clapperton Street, just west of Trinity Anglican.

The current sanctuary officially opened in February 1883. It has been used not just for worship, but for community fundraisers and musical events. Its basement was where Barrie’s Out of the Cold program began and a soup kitchen served many meals to those struggling with food security. Its gathering hall and library were home to an array of support groups, including Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous, as well as Guiding and Scouting groups and an art guild.

“When one looks at the facts, we really can’t afford (to rebuild what we had),” said Gord Thompson, St. Andrew’s Board of Managers chairman. “We will have other costs. Because the building did not meet all the Building Code requirements before the fire, we will have those (costs) as well.  Places that weren’t damaged by fire need to be fixed.”

Going forward, other Building Code improvements, conservatively estimated at just over $100,000, are also required to bring the 1883 sanctuary up to today’s occupancy standards.

Adding to the costs as well as to uncertainty regarding the buildings is nearby pile-driving that has occurred as high-rise buildings have been constructed nearby in Barrie’s downtown, where soils are sandy.

If the congregation opted to preserve the sanctuary and demolish the 1920s addition, helical piles would need to be put under the sanctuary’s foundation to stabilize it, particularly as construction in the city core continues, Thompson added.

St. Andrew’s minister, the Rev. Joanne Lee, moderated the meeting during which the congregation had to decide how to best deal with its long-time home.

“In the midst of these challenges, we know that God is with us. He has been faithful as we have worked alongside others, including our own Women’s Missionary Society and our neighbouring churches to help others and share God’s love,” said Rev. Lee.

Protective fencing will go up around the building to protect it from vandalism.

Two important ministries will not be affected by the fence, she added. The Women’s Missionary Society’s Little Winter Warmers Tree, which provides winter essentials to any passerby who needs it, as well as the church’s electronic sign, will continue to encourage passersby.

St. Andrew’s owns 0.8 acres, and its property includes several apartments, which are affordable housing, and a former convenience store.

“St. Andrew’s has a strong record of serving others in the community and we will explore what God calls us to do, and land and building options will be a part of that visioning,” Rev. Lee added.

New opportunities could include a land swap, a land sale and inclusion in a new development or purchase of a different site or building or a new partnership.

Perhaps, Fred Rogers, who was a Presbyterian Church (USA) minister, said it best: Fred Rogers reminds us when we think we’re at the end of something, we’re at the start of something new.