Editor’s note: this letter from the late artist Mary Pratt was written in 1997 and included in the church bulletin of St. Andrew’s (The Kirk) in St. John’s, though she was not a member of the congregation. Tomorrow, Sept. 23, after worship services, members of four downtown churches — the Roman Catholic Basilica of St. John the Baptist, the Anglican Cathedral, Gower Street Church and St. Andrew’s (the Kirk) — are holding a block party to which all are invited.
Religion has played a primary role in the development of the social structure of St. John’s. Nowhere is that more evident than in the centre of the city on what is known as “Church Hill.” Dominating this hill is the Roman Catholic Basilica, its towers and statues proclaiming the strength of the Irish traditions in the province. Close by it stands the Anglican Cathedral — solid and gothic, representing the city’s traditional ties to England, and that country’s influence on government and the rule of law. To one side sits Gower Street United Church, built on the site of the Methodist Chapel and it indicates the popularity of a humanist celebration of the more established churches. And on a small hill of its own is the Kirk. Fragile and delicate by comparison to the bulk of the other buildings it belies the influence of its solid Scottish traditions on the commerce and arts of the city and the province.
It is imperative that this group of churches remains intact — not only to provide places where people can worship but also to indicate the value that the citizens of St. John’s have traditionally given to religion and its influence on the society of the city.
Of the four churches, only the Kirk is in danger of structural collapse. The lovely bell tower is now too fragile to accommodate the bell within it, and until the brick work and masonry is repaired the bell must remain silent.
The actual funds to repair the structure are not great. In a city where private homes often cost $250,000 and extra bathrooms or new kitchens in more modest homes are expected to cost in excess of $6,000; where new driveways, gardens and fences set proud home owners back $10,000 or $20,000, it cannot come as much of a shock to find that repairs to the Kirk will amount to $1,500,000. The work can be done over a number of years.
It is a privilege to repair a church. To be able to enter a beautiful structure filled with light filtered through stained glass windows — to sit in a vaulted space and hear the music of centuries; to consider the philosophy that has shaped our society is worth far more than money. Unfortunately, it requires money.
To this end the parishioners of the Kirk are being asked to raise the required funds, and with a little help from St. John’s citizens outside the congregation of the Kirk, the materials and the labour required should soon be in hand.
Although I am not a member of the Kirk, I am sufficiently impressed by its charm and by the importance of its place on Church Hill to start a campaign by making a printing, the profits of its sale to go directly to the effort to maintain the Kirk as a sound and beautiful building. I ask you to join me in the privileged enterprise to once again hear all the bells on Church Hill ring.