Where once stood Princeton’s St. Peter’s Anglican Church for 121 years, is now vacant.
The historic building has been dismantled piece by piece.
“There was a whole lot of potential there for something unique in the community that’s gone now,” said Mark Clench, who spearheaded a campaign to save the building. His goal had been to preserve it for the community.
“It definitely stings… buildings like that have been preserved all over the island. There’s a whole lot of potential in these structures,” said Clench.
Clench, along with other concerned citizens who voiced their concerns on social media, says there should have been more open discussion between the Anglican Diocese of Central Newfoundland and the community.
“If the process had been more transparent, I’m sure somebody would have come forward with a proposal to restore that building,” says Clench, who says that, as far as he is aware, the Diocese did not undertake any public consultation process, or engage (or even inform) the public of their decision to sell the church with the intention of dismantling it.
In a letter to The Packet, Clench lays out three suggestions for how the Diocese could have involved the general public in the decision making.
Bishop John Watton of the Diocese could not be reached for comment.
In a previous attempt to reach Watton for comment in September, he referred The Packet to a statement he posted on the Facebook group “Save the Church, Princeton, N.L” (now, “S.P.S.B. Grow Our Community).
In that statement he notes that consultation was held only with parish members.
“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,” the statement reads. As a result, he wrote, 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.”
Clench says the only thing to do now is move forward and remain positive.
The decision to rename the Facebook group from “Save the Church” to “Grow our Community”, with a switch of focus from the dismantling of the church building to a positive place where users can share community events and photos from the region.
“We’ve got that Facebook page that was for saving the church, and now we’re converted that into something to help grow our community,” explains Clench.
Good process and open consultation important; Heritage Foundation
The church in Princeton was only one of four Anglican churches deconsecrated this summer.
St. James in King’s Cove, St. Phillips in Keels, and All Saints in Petley were all deconsecrated Friday, June 20.
Of those four, only Princeton’s St. Peter’s was torn down; the other three were purchased by buyers who had submitted proposals to the Diocese.
St. James in King’s Cove and All Saints in Petley will become private properties, while St. Phillips in Keels has been bought by another church.
Jerry Dick, executive director of Heritage Foundation, Newfoundland and Labrador, says good process and open consultation are often the key to preserving any historic structure.
“What we’re interested in seeing is a good process whereby the community can consider what other options there are for a church or historic building… good community consultation and discussion as to what the options are, and then a process, ideally, where there is an open call for expressions of interest in adeptly reusing a church building, with maybe the community being given the first opportunity,” he told The Packet in a recent interview.
Dick admits not every building will be saved, but if good process, public discussion, and a request for expressions of interest are used to help preserve a building, the community is typically more accepting of even a negative outcome.
Dick noted an example of where this process has been successful; the recent purchase of the Immaculate Conception Church in Harbor Grace.
“We worked closely with the Roman Catholic Grand Falls Diocese on Immaculate Conception Church in Harbour Grace,” he said, noting consultations were held and an expression of interest released by the church.
That building was purchased by Craig Flynn and Brenda O’Riley, owners of Yellowbelly Brewery in St. John’s, in mid-October to be refit as a restaurant, hotel and spa, conference space, brewery and beer garden.
Dick, who acknowledges that while everybody may not like the idea of the old church being used as a brewery, says at the end of the day “the important thing is that the community was consulted and the church is going to be preserved.”
Losing such buildings, says Dick, strikes a blow to communities that touches more than just pocket books.
“It can have a very profound effect, particularly when we look at church buildings and other kinds of institutional buildings, like schools or community halls. I think people’s personal stories are all wrapped up in these places,” he noted. “They’re also landmarks… important, physical landmarks in a community”
“When there is even a simple closure of a church, there is a feeling of grief and frustration in a community.”
But there are ways that communities can protect their heritage buildings.
Dick explains that one of the best ways to do so is to have municipalities designate structures of historic value.
“That’s probably one of the best levels of protection, because they control permitting— any building permits, any demolition permits, are controlled by municipalities. So they actually have one of the strongest tools.”
Under the Municipalities Act, any municipality can designate important buildings, structures, and even land, as a heritage site.
Buildings can also be protected under the Provincial Historic Resources Act, which allows the Heritage Foundation to designate a site as a provincially-recognized historical site.
However, designation by the Heritage Foundation is commemorative only; there is no legal obligation of the property owner to keep the building up to heritage standards; until funding becomes involved.
“Once the owner of a designated property receives funding they enter into a legal contract with Heritage NL which requires them to: a) consult with the foundation on any changes; b) abide by the national standards and guidelines for heritage conservation. They would not be allowed to tear down or alter the heritage character without the consent of the foundation,” Dick explains.
Anglican churches in central Newfoundland
There are 25 Anglican churches in the Anglican Dioceses of Central Newfoundland in the Clarenville area and on the Bonavista Peninsula. This is down from 29, when four Anglican churches were deconsecrated in June of 2018 (although one of those churches is being repurposed for continued use as a church by a different denomination.)
Christ Church in Bonavista
St. Mary in Elliston
St. Andrew in Brooklyn
St. Michael and All Angles in Bunyan’s Cove
St. John the Divine in Canning’s Cove
St. James in Jamestown
St. Matthews in Lethbridge
St. Mary the Virgin in Winter Brook
St. Thomas in Charleston
St. Aiden in Port Blandford
St. Nicholas in Amherst Cove
St. Peter in Catalina
St. Andrews in Newman’s Cove
Holy Martyres in Port Union
St. Michael in Red Cliff
St. Mark in Summerville
St. Mary’s in Clarenville
St. Mary the Virgin in Burgoynes Cove
Good Shepherd in Dunfield
St. John the Evangelist in New Bonaventure
St. Paul in Trinity
St. Matthew Trouty
Christ Church in Port Rexton
St. Clements in Champneys West
St. Andrews in Trinity East
Related Story: Baptist ministry to occupy closed Anglican Church in Keels
Related Story: King's Cove Church has new owners