Abita Springs congregation gets early Christmas present - a 'new' church
© Grant Therlildsen, NOLA.com | The Times-Picayune
The Rev. Jerel Keene of the Louisiana Church of Abita Springs stands next to the timbers that will eventually become his congregation's new place of worship.
EDITOR’S Note: The following story appeared in The Times-Picayune of Louisiana on December 23, 2013 and is published by The Spectator with permission.
By Kim Chatelain
For the Louisiana Church of Abita Springs, a Christmas present rolled into town last week on a flatbed trailer – albeit, in pieces. Massive, ageless beams, clapboard walls, stained glass windows and hand-crafted wood artifacts were unloaded onto an empty lot on Main Street – fragments of what will rise to become a house of worship for the Baptist congregation and one of the oldest churches on the north shore.
What was once the All Saints Anglican Church in Granville Centre, Nova Scotia, where it was built 200 years ago, was disassembled board-by-board in 2009 after the Abita Springs church purchased the structure. It was stored in Canada for nearly four years before being trucked 2,200 miles to the small western St. Tammany Parish town last Wednesday (Dec. 18) one week before Christmas.
The congregation’s goal is to begin the reassembly process in February and hold the first service on Easter – Resurrection Sunday, the Rev. Jerel Keene said.
The Rev. Jerel Keene of the Louisiana Church of Abita Springs discusses the rebuilding of a 200-plus-year-old church that was taken apart in Nova Scotia, trucked to Abita Springs, and will be rebuilt for the church's congregation in time for Easter services in 2014.
“The people of this town will have a sanctuary on Main Street to hear the Gospel,” said Keene, the church's pastor. “It’s going to be amazing.”
The congregation still has to acquire several permits from the town government to reassemble the church at the corner of Main Street and Louisiana 435, directly across the street from the post office. But Keene said town leaders have been generally supportive of the project and he sees no insurmountable hurdles.
Was All Saints Anglican
The church was the All Saints Anglican Church in Nova Scotia before deconstruction. The church was carefully taken apart, stored for several years, and recently trucked to Abita Springs, where another church congregation will put it back together in time for Easter, 2014, services.
When the church opens its antique doors, it will be the culmination of a journey that began years ago when Keene decided the congregation needed a new church. The church currently holds its services in a children’s day car center it operates adjacent to the lot on which the church will be reconstructed.
Plans were drawn for a new church, but building a modern sanctuary from the ground up was cost prohibitive for the relatively small congregation of around 150 people.
Prayed On The Issue
Keene said he prayed on the issue for quite some time before coming upon a vision of an old white church.
Searching online, Keene ran across a quaint, white church that was being decommissioned in Granville Centre, a rural community along the Annapolis River in western Nova Scotia. He traveled to Canada to visit the church and found it to be even more impressive than the photos suggested. The church’s cornerstone is inscribed with 1814, but Keene believes its exposed beams were actually formed in the 1700s.
Keene made contact with TimberhArt Woodworks in Port Williams, Nova Scotia, which had been hired to find a buyer willing to move the old church to another location. After discussing the idea of relocating the church to Abita Springs with his congregation, the Baptist minister plowed forward with his vision and began raising the hundreds of thousands of dollars he expected the effort to cost.
The woodworks outfit, headed by Dan Reagan, who specializes in timber framing and post and beam construction, carefully took the church apart and marked its pieces so that it could be more easily reassembled. It has been in storage in Nova Scotia while the Abita Springs congregation raised the money and made other preparations to bring the church to its new home.
Reagan will be heavily involved in the project to resurrect the 56-by-30 foot structure. Local building contractor Jerry Glover and Piazza Architecture Planning of Mandeville will also take part in the effort, Keene said.
Once rebuilt, Keene said the church will seat about 150 and should be sturdy, with its massive 12-inch beams from a bygone era providing uncanny stability. “It’s withstood many hurricanes where it came from,” he said.
Members of the Baptist congregation are anxious to reassemble the building, which was unloaded from the flatbed after a three-day, 2,200-mile trip from icy Canada.
“It’s a piece of history,” said Travis Charlie, the congregation’s youth and children’s minister. “We’re putting up a piece of history in Abita Springs.”
Kim Chatelain is a reporter, covering government and politics in St. Tammany Parish for NOLA.com | The Times-Picayune. The New Orleans native joined The Times-Picayune news staff in 1979. He can be reached at email@example.com or at 985.898.4832.
Also see Tim Wilson video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_lob637KhJo#t=57