The first step to rebuilding Woodbury Union Church, which burned on Thanksgiving eve, could come this week as Bowerman Associates of Providence starts sorting through the rubble in preparation for demolishing what remains of the building.
Gary Christensen, chair of the Presbyterian church’s rebuilding committee, said Sunday that Bowerman was selected last week to manage the demolition and the construction to follow. Christensen is hopeful of retrieving church records and other items of use before the building is leveled.
On the night of the fire, as firefighters squelched burning embers, parishioner George Tarring asked firefighters whether they could retrieve cases of hand bells that were stored just inside the rear entrance. Remarkably, other than for some minor water and smoke damage, the bells were unscathed. They have since been cleaned and polished, and the 11-member hand bell choir has resumed rehearsals in its temporary home – St. Benedict Church, a short few blocks away from the intersection of Beach Avenue and West Shore Road and Woodbury.
Immediately following the fire, Fr. Robert Marciano, pastor of St. Kevin/St. Benedict, reached out to the Woodbury congregation, offering them use of St. Benedict. Woodbury has not only had use of the church and church hall on Sundays, but organizations affiliated with Woodbury – including Scouts and Alcoholics Anonymous – have use of facilities.
Christensen said there were other offers of space in the wake of the fire, but that St. Benedict has enabled Woodbury to operate without interruption and remain in the neighborhood.
“We have been blessed,” he said.
Whether Woodbury will be able to swing the cost of rebuilding has not been fully determined. Christensen said insurance is paying for the demolition and is expected to cover rebuilding. Donations and proceeds from a GoFundMe drive now total about $75,000. But, as Christensen explains, the budget is “in flux” as the full extent of the work to be done isn’t known.
It is known that the new church won’t be any larger or taller than the one that burned. Christensen said the city has agreed that the building be no bigger than the existing footprint. If all goes well, he is hopeful reconstruction will start soon after clearing the site and that a new church will be ready by this time next year.
Christensen said he “married into the church” 37 years ago when he married his wife and the wedding was held at Woodbury. He was involved in remodeling the church when that project was undertaken about 25 years ago when the Rev. William Lover was pastor.
“Now there’s a new remodeling, whether we like it or not,” he said.