The Goulds Historical Society plans to soon get started on emergency repairs on a landmark little church on Bay Bulls Road that’s been unused for decades.
St. Matthew’s Church, also known as the Ruby Church, is a Gothic-style building on the main road through Goulds with a little graveyard surrounding it. It’s been painted by artists numerous times and has stirred its share of controversy over the decades.
The Ruby family built it more than a century ago because another Anglican church was too far down in Goulds.
The last christening in the church was in the 1960s when St. Paul’s Anglican Church was built and the congregation moved. But people are still being buried in the graveyard, although plots are getting scarce.
“We would have started the weekend, but we are waiting on the corner post (of the steeple tower),” said society president Winston Ruby, who added the group has permission from Anglican officials to go ahead with emergency repairs.
The corner post of the steeple tower is an odd size.
Pews and other religious artifacts were stripped from the church decades ago. The 100th anniversary of the church was celebrated last fall.
But various members of the Ruby family are continuously being confronted and asked why they’ve let the church fall into disrepair, Ruby said.
Their reply is it’s under control of the Anglican Church, the Diocesan Synod of Eastern Newfoundland and Labrador.
Nevertheless, society volunteers have organized work on the church.
Some of the exterior has been removed from the steeple for the upcoming repairs.
Ruby said Wednesday the synod has assured the society the church will remain standing, but a formal agreement has not been struck.
There was one in place, but that ran out in 2006.
Meanwhile, the society has been informally accepting donations of materials for repairs.
Someone dropped off a 50-pound box of nails, and safety vests have been contributed to the effort.
AA heritage grant expired the end of June because no agreement was reached with the synod, Ruby said, adding there have been talks and what church officials consider emergency appears vague.
Steeple tower exposed
Some passersby have seen the exposed steeple tower and assumed the boards fell off because of dilapidation, but the cladding was actually taken off to assess the damage underneath and is now drying out, Ruby said.
“It’s not like it came off on its own,” he said, adding it’s nowhere near as bad as in the 1980s when the tower was practically hanging on air.
“Most people look at it and say it’s a very tough building.”
The Thomas Pope-designed church’s contentious history stretches back to the decision by the Rubys in a 1910 dispute to build their own place of worship, according to the Heritage Newfoundland website.
Farmer George Ruby didn’t like the chosen site of the Anglican Presentation church further down in Goulds, so he donated land and organized fundraising for St. Matthew’s.
The cornerstone was laid in September 1913 for St. Matthew’s.
The stone was was never officially consecrated, but the grounds were. Through the years, the Rubys hired their own clergy, although according to therubychurch.com, family lore has it that George Ruby got fed up at some point with St. Matthew’s and handed it off to the Anglican synod.
St. Paul’s was built in 1964.
In the 1980s, St. Matthew’s was in a major state of disrepair — decades before the kerfuffle over the old Anglican church in St. Philip’s caused a ruckus culminating in someone toppling the steeple there. Members of Goulds Historical Society and some of the St. Paul’s vestry who determined St. Matthew’s should be be torn down wound up in a standoff.
Finally, on August 2, 1986, rumours spread that supporters of the vestry were coming to haul down the tower of St. Matthew’s. A confrontation ensued between 11 “destroyers” and 44 “defenders” who spent a couple of tense hours in front of the church,” reads the account on therubychurch.com.
After the crowd simmered down, there was a compromise leading to the 20-year agreement between the society and the vestry to preserve the exterior with the society and community fundraising and doing volunteer work, but services were not permitted.
The society has submitted a wish list to the Anglican diocese. It wants in the future to restore the interior. The building is now just an empty shell, Ruby said.
Some religious writings remain on the uncovered walls, but the pulpit and some other artifacts were put in storage or used in St. Paul’s.
The 10 pews were given out in a lottery-style draw to extended Ruby family members.
Ruby said the society would not demand the pews back, but would take them back if they were volunteered.
A restoration could also feature museum items that reflect the community’s history, including farming artifacts, said Ruby, the great-great-grandson of George Ruby and author of a book, “The Ruby Church.”
The church officially became a heritage site in the late 1980s.
An official with the Anglican synod was not available for comment Wednesday.