British Columbia

Community members say goodbye to historic B.C. church destroyed by fire

Community members in the Merritt area are saying their last goodbyes to the historic Murray United Church after it burned down Jan. 11.

'It truly was [like] a death in the family'

Rev. Elaine Diggle led a memorial service at the site where Murray United Chuch used to be. (Jenifer Norwell/CBC)

Community members in the Merritt-area are saying goodbye to the historic Murray United Church after it burned down Jan. 11.

The 143-year-old church was part of a string of churches targeted by an alleged arsonist in the Nicola Valley. The other buildings were not as seriously damaged, and no one was injured in any of the fires.

A memorial service was held on Sunday to honour the loss of what used to be one of the province's oldest wooden churches

"[It] is really hard to see this," said Rev. Elaine Diggle, a minister at Trinity United and Murray United churches.

The Murray United Church was burned down in January allegedly by an arsonist. This is what remains of the building. (Jenifer Norwell/CBC)

"It was just one of those lovely simple places where you know people's prayers have been going up for a long time."

The church was built in 1871 and was closed in 1956. However, in the past few years the congregation has been using it for special occasions.

Loss of the church

Murray United Church is the reason Diggle came to Merritt as a minister, she told Daybreak Kamloops' Jenifer Norwell.

Diggle used to be a minister in Peachland, but she fell in love with the church when the previous minister showed it to her.

"I walked in and I said 'we have to do a Christmas Eve service here,'" she said. In 2015, they held the first Christmas Eve service the church had hosted in 50 years. 

The Murray United Church was reduced to rubble after a suspicious fire on Jan. 11, 2019. (Pam Taylor)

Losing the church felt like a death, said Diggle. "It truly was [like] a death in the family."

Others at the memorial service also shared in Diggle's grief.

Community member Eleanor Marshall's great-grandparents helped build the church after they moved to the area in 1871.

It was tough for her when she found out the church had burned down. 

"I was just crushed, absolutely crushed, because we've been visiting it forever," said Marshall.

Collection of remains

The memorial service was held so community members could find closure, said Jack Polmans, a director at Trinity United Church.

"We really had this little church going good and it's just so sad to see it destroyed like this," he said.

On the front of an urn that contains remnants of the church, is a picture of Murray United Church. The plaque on the top says, 'Remains Murray United Church Nicola B.C. 1876 to January 11, 2019. Destroyed by fire.' (Jenifer Norwell/CBC)

To honour the church, they've collected some of its ashes and remains and put them into an urn.

Some of the items in the urn include, square nails, a key, an organ spring, a piece of stained glass, a chimney brick, a few pages of a hymn book, a shingle from the roof and a square nut that was in the original foundation. 

"The history of the church is also in here, so, it's just great," said Polmans. "This will be on display in Trinity United Church in Merritt from this day on."

Rebuilding

Polmans hopes they can raise enough money over the next few years to rebuild the church.

If they don't get enough money, they will build a memorial instead, he said. "We're not going to let it just die."

With files from Jenifer Norwell and Daybreak Kamloops

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