The future of Zion United Church is in the hands of the community, as the historical landmark is facing permanent closure if it's unable to raise $100,000 to install a new boiler to keep its building functional.
“The church is very lucky that it has survived this long, but after this past winter, repairs are no longer an option,” said representative Jack Ross.
A fundraising committee from the church has launched a GoFundMe page for the project, asking anyone with an interest in the heritage church to consider donating to the hefty goal of $100,000 needed to install an entirely new boiler system.
Zion’s aging boiler is in need of a complete replacement, as it was originally installed in 1979. Ross said that the church board has done as much as it can to keep the current boiler functional, including extensive maintenance and patches, but the system is on its last failing leg.
While $100,000 is a large goal to raise, Ross said that every penny will be needed to properly solve the problem. Consults with experts said that the current boiler will not be able to withstand another winter season, which means the church is facing permanent closure if funds aren’t found by the campaign’s end goal of Thanksgiving.
“The stark reality of it is (that) if we weren’t able to receive the significant amount required, unfortunately, the building would end up sitting vacant,” said Ross.
All donations raised from the campaign will be used to cover the replacement costs, which include building a new custom boiler, shipping it to Moose Jaw, and installing and testing the new system. The price tag also includes removing asbestos insulation currently installed on the boiler room’s pipes.
A new boiler system will be more energy-efficient for the large building, in addition to keeping the venue open for use for many more years to come.
“It’s a very expensive installation,” said Ross. “Our congregation is very generous on an ongoing basis, helping with monthly keep-up and the cost of running the church, but this is over and above. That’s why we’re reaching out to the community of Moose Jaw and surrounding area (for help), who have had the opportunity to utilize the church and have in the past.”
The history: Zion as a pillar of Moose Jaw
Zion United Church was first constructed in 1906 and has remained a pillar of the community in the century that followed, said Ross, and closing Zion’s doors would be an incredible loss.
“It really is a treasure to Moose Jaw, right on Main Street, with the design and the acoustic qualities of the building,” said Ross. “There’s just a longstanding relationship of Zion supporting the community.”
The church has been more than a religious hub for the city over the past century, said Ross, also serving as a social gathering place, popular performance venue and important resource for Moose Jaw.
Annual music festivals have been taking place in the church for decades, including the Moose Jaw Music Festival, which hosted its 111th event this year, and the Rotary Carol Festival, which has been running for 76 consecutive years. Other non-profits and local groups have used Zion to host events, fundraisers and meetings.
The building is also a landmark, continued Ross, as it has stood on Main Street with its recognizable Doric pillars for over a century. The church is the oldest in Moose Jaw, as it began meeting as a Methodist congregation in the early 1880s, when the city was a fledgling settlement.
Zion Methodist Church joined the United Church of Canada in 1925, changing its name to Zion United Church as it’s known now. Zion is one of only two churches designed in the Classical Revival style by architect James Chisolm, with a sister church in Winnipeg that burned down in the 1970s.
Zion is famous for its extensive stained glass windows, which feature over 13,600 individual glass segments, and the iconic stained glass dome that tops the building. Several of Zion’s windows are painted stained glass over a century old, depicting iconic scenes.
The massive Casavant pipe organ is another cornerstone of Zion’s charm. It utilizes over 1,800 working pipes and was the first of its kind installed in western Canada.
The church was declared a heritage site in 1983, making it possible for the congregation to take on funded restoration projects over the years. Extensive work has been done to repair and maintain the inner parts of the building, including insulation work, replacing the organ console, window upgrades and structural repairs to the dome.
Zion's status as a heritage building means that the fundraising committee is currently looking into applying for heritage grants to help with the boiler replacement, but they aren’t banking on that funding covering the entire project’s price tag.
“That’s on our list, being in touch with the folks at Heritage Canada and through city hall and the United Church of Canada, but there has to be additional support to that too,” said Ross.
Community donations to Zion United Church’s boiler project are being collected online through the GoFundMe, as well as in-person at the church office during regular business hours.
Ross said that hopes are high that Zion will be able to reach its $100,000 goal, as Moose Jaw has always stepped up in the past to help out.
“We’re very optimistic that the total will be reached because of the support that the church has within the community,” said Ross. “We know of the long-standing love affair the community has had for Zion United Church and its sanctuary, so it's just a matter of having those folks come forward and support us now.”