Facing loss of historic church, Quebec City anglophones plan to save it -- by opening the doors

It’s a tough time for churches—not just COVID-19, but the modern era, with church attendance declining for decades and buildings aging.

Now consider trying to shore up support while also being a Presbyterian church founded by Scots in the heart of old Quebec City.

But a historic English-speaking congregation in the provincial capital has found a way—it hopes—to keep their church not only alive but flourishing, indefinitely.

St. Andrew’s Church used to be an important meeting place in the heart of the old city.

“There was room for maybe 300 people,” said Guy Morriset, who is on the St. Andrew’s board of directors.

Scottish soldiers who fought on the Plains of Abraham founded the congregation in 1759, and then the church, beginning construction in 1810.

After deciding to stay in Quebec, the “highlanders” petitioned King George III to grant them the land to build upon. It became the first Presbyterian church of Scottish origin in all of Canada. 

St. Andrew’s still has spectacular stained-glass windows, some of them dating back to the 1800s. 

“The soldiers would be in the balconies and the families would be down on the ground floor,” said Morriset.

Its bells have rung out over Quebec City ever since—until last year. Like so many other churches, it had trouble paying its repair bills and the board had considered moving to a different building.

Then it came up with a Hail Mary idea. Over the last nine months, the building was completely renovated inside, stripped down to the stones.

When the work is finished by around December, it’ll be transformed, not just in look and in purpose.

St. Andrew’s will be a church on Sundays, but during the rest of the week it will open its doors to the rest of the community for various events such as meetings or receptions.

“Everything will be white with a big candelabra,” said Cynthia Hovington of the company Kamai Project Management, which partnered with the church to do the renos, which cost nearly $1 million, and to manage the booking system.

Aside from helping pay the bills, this is a fitting use for the 210-year-old building, says its minister.

“The building will be used by the community,” said Rev. Dr. Katherine Burgess.

“I think that's more important, in some ways, because it brings the community into the Church.”

In a city full of small heritage buildings—at least within the walls of old Quebec City—the church will be one of the only spaces aside from the Chateau Frontenac that can fit 250 people.

But they also hope that it’s a model that can protect the building, its congregation and its history with no further crises.

“St Andrew's now, we hope, will never close,” said Burgess.

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