Union United Church celebrates homecoming with Oliver Jones
After 4 years away, congregation overjoyed to return 'home' to Delisle Street
Members of United Union Church attended a special service Sunday to celebrate the return to their church on Delisle Street.
The congregation was forced to relocate in 2011 because its century-old building was dilapidated and needed urgent repairs.
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On Sunday, the renovated church's pews and balcony were packed and an overflow crowd spilled into the stairwell.
"We're just really overjoyed and grateful to be back," said Allison Paul, a member of Union United Church for 20 years.
Her mother, Floreen Paul, left home at 10:30 a.m. to get a seat as close to the front as possible for the 1 p.m. service.
"It's a blessed day today to be back in our church. It's a very good feeling," Floreen Paul said.
Members had met at Rosedale Queen Mary United Church and, more recently, at Wesley United Church in Notre-Dame-de-Grâce while repairs were done.
After struggling to raise $1 million and securing a $460,000 loan from the Montreal Presbytery, the congregation replaced the church's roof, removed mould and asbestos, and put in new ceilings, new floors, new skylights and accessible bathrooms.
At Sunday's service, longtime Union United Church member Oliver Jones performed on the new grand piano he donated to mark the fresh start.
It will replace the piano he played during his first public concert at the church, when he was five years old.
"I'm very, very happy, very excited," Jones said.
"When I walked in, [I] saw so many smiling faces. Everyone seemed so very, very upbeat about coming back."
Jones received a standing ovation for his performance and his commitment to the congregation.
He made a point of giving special thanks to Erene Anthony, chair of the board at Union United Church, for her hard work over the past four years to get the church repaired.
"I'm just so pleased and relieved that we've got to this point," Anthony said.
Union United still needs to do brick work outside, add a French drain and pay down that $460,000 loan.
But the focus on Sunday was celebration.
Members were clapping and dancing during the service, which lasted more than two hours, and then continued the party with refreshments in the basement afterwards.
"Even though everything is not done...we feel really blessed to be back at Union, our home," Allison Paul said.