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Princeton resident wants to see closed church repurposed for community

St. Peter's Anglican Church in Princeton.
St. Peter's Anglican Church in Princeton. - Jonathan Parsons

Anglican Diocese issues statement on decision to sell deconsecrated St. Peter’s

PRINCETON, N.L.

NEWFOUNDLAND AND LABRADOR
CANADA

A Princeton resident is looking to find a compromise which will see a church building used for his community in the future.

After St. Peter’s church in Princeton was one of four buildings in the area deconsecrated on June 20, and subsequently sold, Mark Clench has led a campaign to find an alternative purpose for the structure that can benefit the community.

Clench told The Packet when he discovered the building had been sold with the intention of dismantling at the end of August, he began a Facebook group “Save the Church, Princeton NL,” to make people aware of what was going on.

He says the structure itself is historic and doesn’t think it should come down. While he’s a self-described reluctant figurehead of the cause, he is fighting to make sure it doesn’t come down.

“The building is 121 years old this year,” says Clench. “It’s built mostly of eastern white pine, which is mostly extinct on this part of the island.”

Mark Clench.
Mark Clench.

He adds Thomas Granger oversaw the build in 1897, and Clench details the “beautiful, artistic,” architecture which mirror the Powderhorn Hills in the landscape.

Aside from the history element, Clench also says — while he’s not a member of the church congregation — his ancestors have been, many of whom are buried in the cemetery and likely helped build the church over a century ago.

Clench’s mother was born and raised in Princeton and he lived in the Shoal Harbour area until he was about eight-years old. He then moved to Labrador. However, he moved back to area about six years ago, living in Princeton for the past two years.

“I’ve fallen in love with the place,” he said. “I consider it my home.”

Clench says it is this love for his community that made him say he couldn’t sit back and see the church torn down.

He’s presented his ideas to the Facebook page and has had discussions with those in the Anglican Diocese on how he thinks the building can be sold to the community for the purposes of a community centre and skills workshop where young people can benefit.

While the building has already been sold to an individual who is dismantling the structure, as per the understanding with the Diocese, Clench does not believe it’s too late to reach an agreement where everyone is compensated.

And he says he has the utmost respect for both the church community and the buyer, who he says is not to blame in this situation. Clench stressed that the buyer is not at fault in any way and does not want anyone to look at him negatively.

“The aim here is for the community to have a chance to purchase the church and the land it sits on for the community,” he said.

Central Newfoundland Anglican Diocese statement

When asked for comment on the situation in Princeton, Bishop John Watton of the Anglican Diocese of Central Newfoundland referenced a public statement he issued via Facebook in the group “Save the Church, Princeton, N.L.”

While Watton expressed the respectful manner in which Clench has conducted himself throughout the process, he also says this decision to sell the church to be torn down was not one that was taken lightly.

In the statement, Watton says since the church was forced to close due to a low number of committed subscribers, consultation was held with the members of the parish during which the decision was made.

“That is not to say that we are not interested in community partnerships, but we are the ones who understand the complexities and legalities of closing buildings and maintaining ministries to the people of the area around birth, marriage and death,” reads the statement.

He says since the cemetery adjacent to the church will still be active, they are unable to repurpose the church land or enter a partnership in which a liability issue may arise.

As a result, he says they decided the “most honourable and respectful thing we could do to uphold the integrity of the spirit of our forebears was to respectfully and prayerfully dismantle the building.”

He adds there is a greater question to be asked, one that sees people become vocal when a building is going to be torn down but not when the church itself is deconsecrated due to a congregation too small to support it.

However, in an additional statement, Watton suggested this effort of the community coming together can still be a positive for Princeton, even if it doesn’t involve the church building.

“Possibilities in communities are realized when people come together. Good things are created through committees, networks, government, local service groups and Churches. People who have taken the time to get to know one another, sharing concerns realities and resources for the common good.”

He says instances where church buildings have been repurposed elsewhere, much of the work has been established by committees ahead of time, laying groundwork to support a building such as a church structure.

“My hope for you all is that you will see a larger picture for the community, that you will come together for healing and realize how much potential you have if you can unite your energy, and begin a brand new movement to build community. “

Watton encourages the community to direct its passion away from a wooden structure that has already fulfilled its purpose the community and towards more strides within the community.

 “The time for St. Peter’s Church to be dismantled has come. We know that our building is being taken down with incredible respect, and the materials will be valued and well used.

“It has been a long and difficult journey for us to make, but we have made it together. While we understand why people may react, it is a time of grief for us. We ask for your respect and understanding.”

Jonathan.parsons@thepacket.ca

Twitter: @jejparsons

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