Rebuilding of Palmyra church begins

This story was published on June 05, 2008 on Page B2 in edition 1, 3 of the Bangor Daily News

PALMYRA – More than two years after its beloved church was destroyed by a wind-swept fire, the congregation of St. Martins Episcopal Church has begun the rebuilding process.

It has been two years of worshipping in the church’s hall, a former Grange hall from the 1800s, taking chairs down each Sunday afternoon and putting them back up the next Sunday morning. Two years of rolling the altar out of the way for public suppers. Two years of dealing with insurance adjusters, fire investigations and funding options.

But the wait for a replacement for the church, which had stood tall on a knoll in Palmyra since 1839, is over.

Bulldozers and other equipment are on-site, moving the earth and putting in the foundation for a new church.

“We are very happy, very happy,” the Rev. Levering Sherman, priest in charge, said Wednesday. “If all goes as planned, we will hold our first service inside the new church in November.”

Chris Glass of Camden is the architect, and Wayne Hawthorne of Newport is the construction contractor.

“After the fire, there was a natural period of depression,” Sherman said. “We were all absorbing and feeling the loss. But there is something about the challenge of a fresh start, a new beginning that brings with it a different potential.”

Sherman said he was buoyed by the nearly 500 people who came to the church in the first days after the fire. “It was absolutely amazing – neighbors, ministers, priests all offering their support.”

It was never a question of whether rebuilding would take place, but when. Sherman said the insurance company the church used took more than two years to settle the claim and the final figures still have not been cemented.

“We started with a claim of $1.25 million,” Sherman said, “and they countered with $480,000.” Sherman said the company, which most Episcopal churches in Maine use, based its figures on an inaccurate and outdated appraisal. “We figure they made at least $50,000 in interest on our money that they held,” Sherman said.

But looking forward, he said, was always the congregation’s goal. “Creating a gathering place, a welcoming place is part of our mission, our calling,” he said.

The new parish hall will fill that need, he said. The project includes a new office, a main entry hall, parking area and the hall, which he said could be a potential event center.

The church is accepting proposals for the use or repurpose of the old Grange hall.

Sherman said the church will not have to borrow any money to complete the construction but will hold many fundraisers to replace the contents.

Meanwhile, each Sunday the congregation adds to the service prayers for the construction workers, and they are getting the dozens of items firefighters saved from the burning church ready for a new home.

Stained-glass windows, banners, lanterns and a massive cross were a few of the items saved. And there has been plenty of help – Sherman said church membership has continued to grow since the fire.

“The issue of continuing as a part of the community is of primary interest to us,” Sherman said. “Part of our mission to rebuild is to keep an open door to the community. This is not just a local church. It is a part of the larger community.”