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A Leap of Faith: Squamish church's bell tower restoration

St. John the Divine Anglican Church's bell tower had long been wrapped in a blue tarp.

For the St. John the Divine Anglican Church in Squamish, the journey to finishing repairs on its bell tower and roof has been long, but is almost at its end.

"We're about three years now since the beginning of the project," said Rev. Cameron Gutjahr, who explained that what was originally a plan to stop the bell tower from leaking expanded in scope after they took a closer look at the structure on Diamond Road.

"As we realized there was a leak that needed to be dealt with, another roof section started to fail, so we threw that part in too."

Gutjahr explained that upon closer inspection of a simple leak, the structure was revealed to be rotten and falling apart. 

What had originally been estimated to be a $100,000 job ended up being closer to $300,000—quite the leap of faith in investment that led to the 'Rev on the Roof' campaign that involved Gutjahr camping on the rooftop to raise the profile of fundraising efforts.

"That was pretty funny," joked Gutjahr. "I did it as an opportunity to talk about it and raise awareness. Roofs are not very exciting, so I wanted to bring some levity into this."

Another source of levity was the ongoing saga of the tower being wrapped in blue tarp for so many years.

"It ended up being a little disintegrate-y. It was frustrating but also very funny—there were memes going around, which I belly laughed about ... It became a landmark, the big blue tarp. Next year, for Halloween, I might just wrap myself in some blue tarp and rope and be the bell tower."

Together with ongoing fundraising and donations from community members, Gutjahr said the project is just about—but not quite—complete, besides a few fair-weather finishing touches.

Lessons learned

Gutjahr said that the process had been a great learning experience.

"St. John's has been and is a home to lots of different people over the years, apart from the spiritual community that meets here on Sunday mornings. The thing that has been really exciting and really important for me has been taking the opportunity to think about why we're fixing the roof … it's a nice opportunity to think about why we have this building, and for us, we have this building to serve the community and many different folks—it's good to keep that in focus, but it's absolutely been a surprise teacher about the lessons of patience and perseverance."

The inside of the tower is a piece of art too, thanks to the contractor's artistic flair. There's bronze cladding and chandeliers on the inside.

"Overwhelmingly, the response from the community is that it's really beautiful, and the inside makes it a lovely reception space."

The church hasn't had a celebration for the completion of the project yet, but Gutjahr said being able to use the bell again had been a cause for celebration anyway.

"The bell that's in the bell tower is an old train bell, from the original church downtown. It's over 100 years old and used to be on a train that was in the area and was put in the tower. Before, we wouldn't really ring it because we didn't know about the structural integrity of the tower."

Now, it could be used every Sunday and before services.

Efforts to repair the roof and bell tower have taken up the majority of Gutjahr's five years (so far) at St. John the Divine, but he said it hadn't dampened spirits.

"A project like this that takes so much time and becomes so expensive can really sap joy … we've been concerned about it, but there's still a lot of joy in the community. We've held on to our hope and our purpose, and haven't allowed this to stop us from trying and doing other things."

Head to the St. John the Divine Anglican Church website to donate to fundraising efforts for the roof and bell tower.

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