All Saints Anglican Church resurrected in Louisiana
200-year-old Annapolis Valley Anglican church reborn as a U.S. Baptist church
On a quiet street corner in a small Louisiana town, a large piece of Nova Scotia dominates the landscape.
It’s a church. For the first 200 years of its existence, it was the All Saints Anglican Church of Granville Centre in the Annapolis Valley. Now it’s Louisiana Church in Abita Springs.
The move, and the resurrection of the church, started with the vision of one man: Reverend Jerel Keene.
"As soon as I saw it and saw the '1814' on the cornerstone and the area that it came from, which was Nova Scotia ... I made a connection immediately," Keene said last week on the doorstep of his church.
Keene envisioned moving the building intact to Louisiana, a grand gesture which he said would have attracted a lot of attention to both the building and his ministry.
We're southern Baptists — and we dunk.- Rev. Jerel Keene
But when he arrived in Nova Scotia to inspect his purchase, he discovered the floors had already been removed so the building could not simply be picked up and re-located. So he had to go to plan B — the church was disassembled and shipped to Louisiana.
"The building sat in Nova Scotia for longer than I would have had it sit in Nova Scotia, but we were trying to prepare the ground and prepare the area and make sure we could put the building up as well or better than the original building looked," Keene said.
The original builders had stamped the beams with Roman numerals, which proved a big help in re-assembling the building in its new home.
Some things could not survive the move, like the plaster walls and the exterior cladding, which was not original to the church. Keene and his congregation have decided to leave the hand-hewn beams exposed inside so that people can appreciate the original craftsmanship.
"I knew that we could actually expose the original craftsmanship and the builders and the history behind what was behind the plastered walls," he said.
The original doors were in bad shape, so members of Keene’s congregation have replaced them with massive wooden doors stained to fit in with the historic building.
Air conditioning installed
Instead of a solid foundation, the church now sits on short pillars which allow air to circulate underneath. Many buildings in Abita Springs use this technique to help keep them cool.
But it’s not enough. The church now has an air conditioning system and huge ducts will obscure one of the large windows at the back of the church. But losing a view is necessary to deal with the muggy heat of Louisiana.
The original stained-glass window that overlooked the altar at the front of the church will be part of the new building, but not right away. The window is being restored and will eventually be returned to its place.
However, the window will not be visible from inside the church. In a major change from the original structure, a platform nearly six metres above the floor will be built. It will support a large baptismal.
"Well, we're southern Baptists — and we dunk," Keene said.
I'm sure they'll have people lined up to see this church.- Fred Charlie
"We believe that we're supposed to be dunked, like Jesus was dunked, like John the Baptist baptized. And so we're going to make that the centrepiece of the church in the nave."
The baptismal and other finishing touches will not be ready when the reborn church hosts its first service.
Keene is determined the church will be ready for Easter Sunday service.
"It'll have the red oak floors. It will all be painted inside," he said. "It will be a solid, finished building."
Keene says finishing touches will have to wait.
"There's just going to be a lot of ornate things that we want to put into the church, whether it be the staircase or the balcony or the pews. Things of that nature we're going to have to address."
Church may be older than thought
Louisiana Church may be even older than people think. While All Saints Anglican traces its roots back more than 200 years in Granville Centre, there are signs the original builders salvaged wood from an even older structure.
Two vertical beams which support the balcony in the current structure appear to have been used as horizontal beams in another building. Keene points to a large mortise joint in the beam.
"For that mortise to be that large, that would mean that it would be a tree, a very large tree, supporting this," he said last week inside the rebuilt church.
"And that this would have been horizontal. So that means that this was not an original beam to the church. It went somewhere else."
Keene speculates the Anglican builders scavenged wood from an old French fort.
"From what I've gathered so far, what else could it have been," he asked.
"Some massive building. It has to be in history somewhere so I'm sure someone's going to find what it really was."
Back to their Cajun roots
Keene’s congregation includes Cajuns who can trace their family roots to Acadians in Nova Scotia.
Fred Charlie is a Cajun entertainer whose son is part of the congregation and part of the volunteer force that’s working on the reconstruction.
"Whenever you look at the beams and the structure, the way it was designed, when you walk in, you can feel the connection of long ago in Nova Scotia and they're recreating it here in south Louisiana," Charlie said.
"I'm sure they'll have a lot of people lined up to see this church and to come to some of the services."
Keene is pleased with how things are turning out.
"This is a grand building and this is something that I thought and believed that it shouldn't be destroyed and should continue to be a place of worship for those who love the Lord. I think everybody's happy with it," he said. "I want them to be happy with it."