TIME OF JOY

Con­gre­ga­tion cel­e­brates re­open­ing High­lands United Church one year af­ter ar­son fire

Edmonton Sun - - NEWS - LIANE Faulder

Af­ter a fire shut­tered High­lands United Church one year ago, Rev. John Bur­rill just tried to keep his church fam­ily to­gether.

“There was a feel­ing of loss and grief,” re­called Bur­rill of Sept. 14, 2018.

On Sun­day, those neg­a­tive feel­ings turned to joy as the 113-year-old church re-opened its doors to a con­gre­ga­tion re­newed in body and spirit.

Fam­i­lies, se­niors and neigh­bours packed the pews and heartily sang How Great Thou Art from the sanc­tu­ary — now sparkling and re­fur­bished af­ter a $3-mil­lion restora­tion.

A new sound board, and three big screens for pro­ject­ing hymns are fresh ad­di­tions to the church, along with a “cry­ing room” for ba­bies and par­ents who need to re­treat, but still want to en­joy the ser­vice.

“It’s not so much a church as it is a piv­otal part of the com­mu­nity,” said church-goer Bruce Aud­ley, 70, who was raised just four blocks from High­lands United and re­mem­bers when wooden board­walks and a horse­drawn milk cart char­ac­ter­ized the neigh­bour­hood.

A hub for wed­dings, fu­ner­als and bap­tisms, the church hosts a day­care cen­tre in its base­ment, and has a thriv­ing mu­sic min­istry, with choirs for both voices and hand­bells.

It sup­ports the nearby High­lands Ju­nior High School’s hot lunch pro­gram, and con­gre­ga­tion mem­bers vol­un­teer for Youth Em­ploy­ment and Sup­port Ser­vices (YESS).

Bri­anne Mudryk bounced baby Remy on her hip dur­ing Sun­day’s ser­vice and cel­e­bra­tory lunch.

She looks for­ward to hav­ing the nine-month-old bap­tized in two weeks in the freshly scrubbed sanc­tu­ary. Mudryk says “the com­mu­nity” is what draws her to High­lands United.

“It’s where I grew up, and went to Sun­day school and the feel­ing when you come back through the doors ... it feels like home,” says Mudryk.

She re­mem­bers be­ing bap­tized at the same church when she was in kinder­garten. Af­ter­wards, the min­is­ter gave her a high five in­stead of a hand­shake.

The fire was la­belled ar­son, although no one was ever ar­rested.

While the blaze was con­fined to the church of­fice, the smoke spread through­out the build­ing, which was stripped to the studs and now fea­tures a com­mer­cial kitchen, new floor­ing and fresh paint through­out. Ev­ery wire within its walls was pulled out and cleaned.

Dur­ing Sun­day’s ser­mon, Bur­rill re­minded the con­gre­ga­tion of the phi­los­o­phy that sus­tained them over the last year, when they grate­fully bor­rowed wor­ship space from Ed­mon­ton South Seventh Day Ad­ven­tist church un­til their own build­ing was ready again.

“To­day, we stand on that same foun­da­tion,” he said. “The church is not the build­ing. It’s the peo­ple.”

Larry WONG/POST­MEDIA

A ser­vice at High­lands United Church Sun­day, which re-opened one year af­ter a fire dam­aged the church.

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