By Ron Stewart
Nearly ten years ago the Church of the Epiphany in Manor and Highland Park, in London, Ontario, dreamed an impossible dream – to provide full access to the church and the Memorial Hall building.
The church and the hall were built back when there were no considerations towards accessibility. Both buildings were saddled with sets of steep stairs. And there was a huge obstacle in front of us: housing an elevator and an accessible washroom was going to be expensive…very expensive. Preliminary estimates came in at just under $350,000, and this after we had already spent nearly $30,000 on plans and drawings.
In 2010, the closing of Manor and Highland Park Public School further complicated the picture, making our Memorial Hall the only public meeting space in the Southcrest area and that space (our space) was not accessible. That’s when the little church that cares decided enough was enough and it was time to do something about becoming accessible.
A committee was formed and fundraising began in a serious way. Rev. Mary Wood (our associate minister at the time) designed a sign, and donated a large glass jar which was placed at the back of the church to collect loose change and other donations.
This caused many a chuckle, for how could a jar at the back of the church collect enough money for the project at hand?
The glass jar, however collected quite a bit of money and. to top it all off, was a constant reminder and motivator to everyone who came into our church of the challenge that lay before us.
In the beginning, we had many doubters. Once one of our parishioners told an elected official that “it will never happen in my lifetime”. This was very disheartening, as the politician being spoken to was one we were counting on to support our grant applications.
We doubled our efforts. Countless hours were spent in meetings and many brains were challenged to find ways to come up with the money required even to apply for grants. We were told, for instance, that we could not apply to the Trillium Foundation without first having 60% of the funds already in place. So there were garage sales, music concerts, dances, Jamborees, Pot Luck Suppers, Christmas Cookie Raffles, more concerts, Avon fundraisers, St. Patrick Day parties, cookbook sales, Jazz Vespers concerts, Elvis Impersonator concerts and more and more. We simply refused to give up. Donations started coming in.
The congregation took pledges, each family pledging to donate to the accessibility project monthly amounts commensurate to their ability to pay. Then, another miracle, we received a very large anonymous donation that put us over the $200,000 we needed to start applying for grants.
After that hurdle, many hundreds of hours were spent working our way through the myriad confusing worlds of grant applications.
We applied to the Federal Enabling Accessibility program and were granted $46,000. Then Trillium came through with $111,400. The federal New Horizons for Seniors program granted another $24,040 for a second accessible washroom. We used the very generous grants from the Westminster College Foundation ($15,000) and our mother church St James Westminster ($5000) to install a very modern audio system in the church. The Enabling Accessibility, Trillium and New Horizon grants were dedicated to the addition housing the elevator and accessible washrooms.
Then came the difficult and sometimes overwhelming task of building permits. Our contractor VanBoxmeer Construction was very helpful in this regard. But even they could do nothing about the inside workers strike at London’s city hall.
At our Cenotaph, at our annual service of remembrance in the fall of 2015, Mayor Matt Brown had agreed to be the reviewing officer. Our pastor, Rev. Teresa Corrigan, caught up with him after the service and shortly after the inside worker strike was settled, we had our building permits.
On Saturday May 30, 2015 Archdeacon, the Venerable Sam Thomas representing the Diocese of Huron, blessed the ground and congregation, then turned over three spadesful of dirt – officially consecrating our accessibility construction project. Other dignitaries also participated and soon our groundbreaking ceremony was official and construction of our dream would soon be underway.
To make a long story short, on Tuesday Februry 23, 2016 Bishop of Huron, The Right Reverend Robert F. Bennett toured the construction project and was mightily impressed.
Van Boxmeer Construction delivered to us a beautiful addition housing an elevator, and not one, but TWO accessible washrooms!
On Sunday October 23, the little church that cares celebrated our grand opening again with participation from various dignitaries and honoured guests. Rev. Canon Kevin George brought greetings from the Diocese, and officially consecrated and dedicated our new addition. And so our impossible dream has become a reality!
Ron Stewart is chairman of the Accessibility Committee, the Church of Epiphany, London.