The people leading the effort to rebuild the historic Murray United Church near Merritt—which burned to the ground in January 2019—have received an early Christmas gift: an anonymous donation of $50,000.
The donation came as the fundraising committee was on the verge of meeting to see if they could realistically meet their goal. A GoFundMe page and other donations had only raised just over $50,000 of the estimated $180,000 needed to rebuild the church, before the anonymous donation was received at the end of November.
Murray United Church—built in 1876—was one of four churches in or around Merritt targeted by an arsonist within a two-and-a-half hour span on Jan. 10, and burned to the ground on Jan. 11. One of the few things salvaged was the church’s bell, which was badly damaged.
On Jan. 17, RCMP announced that they had arrested 37-year-old August David Caprian of Merritt, who faces three charges of arson and one of break and enter with intent to commit an offence.
Regular services had not been held in the church since 1957, but Easter Sunday and Christmas services were still observed there on occasion, most recently at Christmas 2018. The church was also available for weddings and special events, and some 600 visitors a year came there in summer, with students on hand during the two months it was open to provide tours.
It was the first Protestant church in the Interior of B.C. and the oldest building in the Nicola Valley, as well as the only building still standing made with locally grown and milled Nicola Valley lumber. In 2018 Trinity United Church in Merritt — which oversaw the site — had received funds to replace the stained-glass windows and reinforce the bell tower. The church was insured, but the coverage was limited to the cost of cleaning up the site.
This past summer, the plan to rebuild moved forward when the Thompson-Nicola Regional District (TNRD) board voted to rezone the one-acre Murray Church property from rural to institutional, to accommodate the cemetery at the site and allow for the rebuilding of the church.
The TNRD’s director of development services, Regina Sadlikova, noted that when the church was built there were no zoning requirements for the property. She added that the TNRD hoped to work with the committee so that something as close as possible to the original church could be built while still adhering to modern building codes.
Including the recent anonymous donation, a total of $105,000 has been raised, putting the committee more than halfway towards meeting its funding goal. The donation has also renewed interest in the project, and committee members hope that this will assist them in reaching their goal. One member said that they now have more spring in their step, and it is hoped that within two years, those driving by the site will see a restored Murray United Church that is identical to the one that was lost.
The GoFundMe page is still accepting donations, and the committee has come up with a new fundraiser, which allows people to purchase one of the original church chimney bricks for $50. These bricks will be used to rebuild the church’s chimney, and people are being encouraged to purchase one in their name, or the name of a loved one, as a Christmas gift.
To make a donation or buy a brick, go to the GoFundMe page at http://bit.ly/345mt3E. If you would like to purchase a brick, label your donation “buy a brick”.