Gun Bay’s 108-year-old church closed suddenly last week, leaving its congregation concerned about the future of the building.
Members of the Gun Bay United Church in East End received a letter from church pastor Reverend Louis Sully on Friday, Jan, 9 telling them that the church was now closed because of structural problems.
The letter informed congregants that last July two engineering studies were done on the building and “both of the studies reported that the building was not safe to accommodate any meeting.”
It continued that the church elders had held a meeting at which they decided to seek a new location for church services for the Gun Bay community.
According to the church’s insurance company, structural engineers examined the building and concluded the church was repairable.
The church had at least one beam separating from the structure and cracks in walls, which was pointed out by a former church elder to the Cayman Compass.
Bryan Bothwell, deputy general secretary of the Cayman Islands Regional Mission Council of the United Church in Jamaica and the Cayman Islands, said professional consultants had advised the church that the damage to the building could have been caused by stress or seismic activity.
“In our case, the safety of congregant and any other members of the public must be the paramount consideration of the church,” Mr. Bothwell told the Compass. “No other decision has been made as to the future of the building, as detailed engineering advice would be needed in order for the congregation and the council of the church to properly consider before making any long-term decisions.” Frank Conolly, 87, a former elder and organ player who practically grew up in the church, said, “It has made me sick and it’s taken a part of me to see the church door closed.” He said his father, James Conolly, in whose memory a plaque is dedicated in the church, is one of many who contributed to the building and upkeep of the church.
West Indies Chartered Loss Adjusters said an insurance claim had been submitted. The company commissioned the structural engineers report and, based on that report, the insurance company considers the policy cover. What was needed now was for church representatives to provide a contractor’s repair estimate in line with the structural engineers’ recommendations so that the claim could be paid.
Mr. Bothwell said the Gun Bay Congregational Board made the decision to suspend the use of the sanctuary as a safety precaution because the structure has been deemed unsafe to accommodate any meetings.
Heber Arch, a general contractor asked to look at the building, declined to comment about the building for publication.
AMR Consulting Engineers, in an email to the Compass, stated their clients West Indies Chartered Loss Adjusters Ltd., did not give permission to release the report.
Mr. Bothwell said the report was church business.
At the church, everything sits ready for the congregation to resume service. An organ sits silent in the corner, hymn books line the backs of pews and a bible lays open on the pulpit.
In the meantime, worshippers are attending the East End United Church. Reverend Sully presides over both the East End Church and the Gun Bay church.
It is not known what year the first Gun Bay church was built, but it is recorded that it was destroyed by a storm in 1903. Construction of the present church was completed in March 1907.
Local elders who assisted the church in the early days included Joseph Watler, grandfather to the late Reverend Crosby Watler, and Joseph Armstrong Watson.
In 1930, Dosie Watler was appointed “Keeper of the Lamps,” tasked with ensuring the church’s lamps were lit well in advance of the evening meetings.
The church under its present name was the result of a union in 1992 of the then United Church of Jamaica and Grand Cayman and the Disciples of Christ in Jamaica.
The United Church is the longest established Church in the Cayman Islands. It was formerly the Presbyterian Church.