A security guard has been posted at an Anglican church outside St. John's after the building's large steeple was found on the ground Wednesday morning. The vandalism happened hours after preservationists thought they had prevented a church council from demolishing the building.
The volunteer guard was hired by the town of Portugal Cove to protect the century–old church from any further damage.
"It was quite a surprise yesterday morning to see this," said Carl Jones, who's been patrolling the church grounds since early Thursday morning. "And if they had come back last night, I had a surprise for them."
CBC News reporter Cecil Haire said Wednesday that supports for the steeple of the inactive St. Philip's Anglican church had clearly been cut.
"Someone showed up here and used what appears to be chainsaws or saws to cut the wooden support to the steeple," Haire reported.
"Then the steeple was pulled down, possibly by rope or something like that. There are remnants of rope here in the parking lot."
After the steeple was removed, town councillors in Portugal Cove-St. Philips met Wednesday afternoon and voted to protect the Anglican church from further damage.
Council designated the building a heritage site. The town is also offering a $500 reward for anyone with information on what happened to the steeple.
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Winston Fiander, who lives near the church, said he saw the steeple intact when he woke up early Wednesday. He received a call after 8:30 a.m. that the steeple had been torn down.
Fiander told CBC News that the removal of the steeple struck him as an act of vengeance, not vandalism.
The discovery comes on the heels of a reprieve granted Tuesday night to a citizens group that wants to save the building.
The former church was set to be torn down to make way for a graveyard. The Anglican Church had already deconsecrated the 116-year-old building and has been using a new church for several years.
Following a public uproar, the town council in Portugal Cove-St. Philip's voted 6-1 on Tuesday night to save the unused church.
The council is allowing the Church By The Sea Committee enough time to develop its plan to turn the former church into a museum.
"I'm disappointed at how the vote went," said Rev. Edward Keeping, rector of the community's church, who blamed some members of council for having made up their minds before the matter was debated Tuesday night.
He said he would file a complaint with the provincial Department of Municipal Affairs about the conduct of some councillors.
Keeping said most members of the church council approved demolition at their recent annual meeting, although most of the several dozen people who attended a meeting on the building Sunday wanted to preserve it. Many identified themselves as members of the congregation.
Keeping was not persuaded.
"We cannot afford it. We don't have the money," Keeping said.
As he was leaving the town office, Keeping encountered Steve Sharpe, who heads the preservation council.
Keeping pointed into Sharpe's face and warned him not to come near the old church and cemetery again.
"It would be nice to have someone to reasonably sit down [with], reasonably look at the options," Sharpe said moments after the encounter.
"We have tried to meet with them but frequently we are told that they don't even want to meet with us."