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Hope and faith persist for ‘the Kirk’

The past 16 years may have presented obstacles before those dedicated to rebuilding and restoring the ‘St Andrew’s Presbyterian Church’ in Saint George’s; but, this did not deter.

When Hurricane Ivan struck on September 07, 2004, the sanctuary was destroyed, while the tower continued to grace the skyline, albeit shaken. The north wall of the sanctuary, to which the tower is attached, remained standing, as did the south wall. All the items between those two walls – pews, granite baptismal fount, antique pipe organ, piano, hymn books – were crushed. Hope of restoring the tower and rebuilding what is affectionately known as ‘the Kirk’ or ‘the Scots’ Kirk’ was never crushed.

Church Moderator Rev Dr R Osbert James, who had become the minister just two years earlier, convened services in the homes of Mrs. Linda Japal and Lady Oris Graham, while Knox House, the presbytery, was repaired thanks to donations from the Presbyterian Church in Canada, the Presbyterian Church USA and the United Church of Canada. Determined to rebuild the Kirk and restore the tower, the congregation faced demands from the Physical Planning Unit and the technical challenges of the site’s proximity to the cliff-face, the enormous task of raising millions of dollars and, most recently, the coronavirus pandemic.

It took in excess of $400,000 to restore the inside of the tower, while the 100-year-old pipe organ was sent to Barbados to be rebuilt. The bell, which has the date it was cast in Glasgow and the name of the church inscribed, survived the impact of Hurricane Ivan. However, it remains silent while construction is underway and Sunday services continue in Knox House.

“Since we were working on getting the clock going again, we discouraged/prohibited ringing of the bell. There is an appendage of the clock which taps on the bell to indicate the time,” Rev James told The Grenadian Voice.

The original church, which took two years to build, was completed in 1833.

 “The initial attempt to get work started was delayed because we did not get permission to rebuild as the cliff-face had been compromised by the hurricane,” he added. While permission to rebuild was granted more than two years ago, the church was requested not to proceed as work on the cliff face had started.

From the outset, faith and volunteerism have sustained the 16-year process. Rev James noted that Norris Mitchell of the Willie Redhead Foundation did the architectural drawings, rendering the original structure; Nigel Marshall of Ernest Marshall Construction Ltd. did much of the initial excavation; and Anselm LaTouche and his company Creative Design and Building Construction Co. Ltd., which prepared the current design concept and engineering works, are managing the project – all at no cost.

“We had hoped to rebuild the sanctuary in the same image and location as the old structure; however, because of our proximity to the cliff-face, we decided to build to the north rather than the south of the tower,” he said, noting that the site of the sanctuary is a reclaimed cemetery in which Scottish expatriates were buried in the mid to late nineteenth century.

It is going to take $3.3 million to complete the project, for which $1.8 million has been secured through donations from church members and friends and a loan from the Grenada Building and Loan Association.  After deciding to proceed in two phases, the long-awaited construction has commenced, Rev James said, adding that the church is “accompanied in this rebuilding by the Webster Memorial United Church of Jamaica and the Cayman Islands.”

The first phase is estimated to cost $2.5 million and the second phase $772,000, with a completion date of March 2021.

“The rebuilding started in February of 2020 and was supposed to take roughly 11 months. However, because of COVID-19 and the process of registration to restart work after the end of the lockdown, we lost three months.”

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