St. Mary’s, Napa Blessed for Christmas

St. Mary’s, Napa Blessed for Christmas

by Rob Simas, Member, St. Mary's, Napa

St. Mary’s Episcopal Church in Napa was “red tagged” as a result of damage to the building’s chancel arch, suffered in the 6.1 earthquake that struck Napa last August. The congregation was forced to temporarily relocate all services to its Parish Hall. The good news is that, after four months in “exile,” the structural repairs have been completed. And, after carrying out the traditional “greening of the church,” the congregation was able to move services back into the church building by the Fourth Sunday in Advent, just in time for Christmas! (Pictured at right is the restored and reinforced chancel arch.)

The Rev. Canon Stephen M. Carpenter, Rector, led the efforts to raise the funds to repair the damages to the church’s pipe organ, a chancel pew, a three-foot high altar statue and a wall-mounted mosaic. This work was in addition to the demolition, redesign and reconstruction of the chancel arch. In response to the initial televised interviews about the quake and its damage (along with articles in the local papers and on the Internet), generous donations were received from members of St. Mary’s Parish, from groups and individuals within The Episcopal Diocese of Northern California and across the nation.

Mr. Bill La Liberté, the Rector’s Warden, and Dr. Bob Martin, People’s Warden, worked with the members of the Vestry to lead the Parish through the disruptions, decisions and recovery following the earthquake. But all is not over. Although the work on the arch has been completed and a new statue purchased and installed in the Mary Chapel, the Parish awaits the replacement and installation of about 30 organ pipes from Casavant Frères (Saint-Hyacinthe, Quebec). The hope is that the organ will once again be heard by mid-spring, possibly in time for the great celebration of Easter.

Although the organ remains unplayable, the congregation and choir are still able to enjoy service music to the accompaniment of the church’s piano, which came through the temblor dusty, but unscathed. In fact, during the past four months, the music program moved forward without missing a beat (so to speak). Under the musical direction and with the accompaniment of Mr. Travis Rogers, Choirmaster and Organist, the St. Mary’s choir presented the annual Service of Lessons and Carols in the Parish Hall on the First Sunday of Advent. Excitedly, all members were very pleased to return to the church for proper Christmas services — despite the lack of an organ or the presence of metal folding chairs serving as the temporary pew for the displaced tenor section.

Fifteen years ago, the congregation planned and funded a seismic retrofit of the church, which had been built using unenforced masonry walls. As a direct result of this modern retrofit, the church survived the August quake with only minor damage to its overall structure and exterior. The chancel arch was not part of that retrofit process and, therefore, its integrity was compromised. While maintaining the appearance of the original arch and curtain wall, the new brick, tile, and iron work was designed to increase internal stability, decrease overall weight and meet current building codes.

Things seem to be coming together for St. Mary’s, yet new earthquake-related problems continue to surface. The most recent concerns are cracks in the cement tracery that appeared in the largest (and newest) stained glass window at the rear of the church. Not serious enough to constitute a safety issue that could send the congregation back into “exile,” the tracery will need to be repaired to prevent deterioration of the window. Ready to meet any new challenges that may come along, right now the St. Mary’s congregation is just thankful for the blessing of being back home for Christmas. (Pictured above is the Mary Chapel with the new replacement statue installed over the altar.)



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