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Vicar of destroyed church has yet to grieve as restoration process begins

Clara Martinez
Rubble is cleared from the interior of St. Mark’s Church and roof trusses are stabilized because it is still unsafe to enter. Vicar Kate Harrison has begun to plan what the reconstruction should entail.

The Victorian walls are 175 years old and have been enclosed since Jan. 27 with metal barricades. The church has continued worshiping services under a tent in the garden and is beginning to restart social gatherings that had regularly been held in the church, such as comedy nights and Paint & Sip sessions. 

Harrison has been the church’s vicar for nearly five years, although she said she has now become a part of a startling new community.

“I’ve joined this exclusive club that I never wanted to be a member of,” Harrison said. “Vicars whose churches have burned down.”

She said it was about 2:30 a.m. the morning of Jan. 27 when the fire brigade said the situation was under control. With the phrases, “we haven’t been able to save the building,” and “we did everything we could,” Harrison said it felt like waiting for news in a hospital corridor. 

Harrison said she stayed with her neighbors as the vicarage was in danger of also going up in flames. By the next morning, she said normalcy had vanished. 

I don’t think I have really had time to process my own grief

— Vicar Kate Harrison

“My phone started ringing at about six, and it didn’t stop from that point onwards,” Harrison said.

Even now, Harrison said she still has not had the opportunity to grieve, despite leading the congregation through their sadness.

“We were standing across the road watching that burn down which was horrific, real, genuine trauma,” Harrison said. “And I had to go straight from that into leading other people and caring for other people. I don’t think I have really had time to process my own grief with that and the trauma, the actual trauma, that that’s been.”

Regarding the church’s reconstruction, Harrison said she hopes the walls will remain intact as long as they are structurally secure, and the interior space will be transformed in a “creative explosion” of the neighborhood’s needs. 

“That’s been my sort of vision for this church, that it’s a community hub, that it’s a space where everyone can be regardless of whether you have a faith,” Harrison said. “From a Christian point of view, I am here as a parish priest to care for everyone in the parish, whether they have a faith or not.”

Her five-year plan for the redesigned space will involve a community audit where anyone in the community can pitch ideas for how the space should be used. However, she said development is “limping on at the moment,” as money has only been collected from fundraising and limited insurance coverage.

In addition, she said the grief experienced by the community has impacted people’s requests for the new design of the church. She said many people have approached her asking for the renewal of the pews, and she questions what is truly necessary to revive them. With certain requests, she said people want “something that feels familiar.”

Harrison said the reason for her expanding vision of the church’s new purpose is because a number of community members she noticed passing through were nondenominational.  

“I’d see loads of people who would come in and who would tell me that they didn’t have a faith but just wanted to sit there because of the peace that was there,” Harrison said. “I was quite conscious of that aspect of the loss of the building, that most of the people who came into that building during the week were not people of faith, they were people who just wanted to find somewhere quiet.”

With the plan for the church’s new construction to encompass a greater variety of the community’s needs, Harrison said its use will outlast the Victorian structure that was destroyed in the fire.

“We’ve got this opportunity now to make this building that has served the community for the last 175 years, serve it for the next 175,” Harrison said. “And quite frankly, the building it was wouldn’t be suitable to do that.”

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About the Contributor
Clara Martinez
Clara Martinez, Editor-in-Chief
Clara Martinez (’24) is the Editor-in-Chief for The Standard. She began journalism as an editor of the Middle School newspaper The Scroll and joined The Standard in Grade 9. Martinez is drawn to investigative news stories and profiles, although she does enjoy producing the occasional broadcast or photo gallery. In or out of the newsroom, she can always be found with a pocket-sized notebook and pen in hand.

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