Repairs will soon be completed on Gun Bay United Church, two years after the building was closed because of structural problems.

The modest church, formerly the Presbyterian church, at 110 years old is thought to be the oldest surviving church building in the Cayman Islands.

Builder Dawson Whittaker oversaw the renovation work, assisted by masons who removed three white lime walls and replaced them with 8-inch thick cement blocks and installed hurricane impact windows.

The work, which began at the end of August, is expected to be completed in about two weeks, Mr. Whittaker said.

“We’re just basically taking out the sections where it needs [to be] repaired,” he said. “We took out three walls – two side walls and a front entrance wall – nothing much was done to the back rooms because that was added on just recently and the top and ceilings are fine.”

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The Cayman Compass previously reported that Bryan Bothwell, with the United Church in Jamaica and the Cayman Islands, which is in charge of the church, said professional consultants had advised the church that the damage to the building could have been caused by stress or seismic activity.

The Gun Bay Congregational Board then decided as a safety precaution to suspend the use of the sanctuary because the structure had been deemed unsafe to accommodate any meetings.

New cement walls and hurricane impact windows are part of the renovation of Gun Bay United Church. – Photo: Jewel Levy

The church had at least one beam that was separating from the structure, and cracks in the walls, due to which it was closed suddenly with everything inside. Members said at the time that they were given letters and locked out.

The United Church in Jamaica and the Cayman Island Cayman Council Office said the current repairs are being carried out on the building by the church.

“How it is being funded is not a matter for discussion,” said council officer John McMillian.

An organ, which church elder Frank Conolly said the church bought for $10,000 shortly before it closed, and a piano that cost $7,000, may have gone to ruin. Before the keys to the church were taken away, he said, he regularly checked on the church. During the repairs to the church when he was able to get back in, he found the organ was “dumb.”

Pastor Alice Blair says she is just happy that the congregation will soon be moving back into the church.

The church will be hosting a re-dedication ceremony. In the meantime, while repairs are being undertaken, the 30 or so members of the church are worshiping at the William Allen McLaughlin Civic Centre in East End.

Church history

The history of the Presbyterian church in Grand Cayman, now known as the United Church in Jamaica and the Cayman Islands, had its beginnings because of a shipwreck in 1845.

At the time of the shipwreck, the island had about 1,500 inhabitants. One of the people on the ship was Rev. Hope Waddell who, when he found that there was no organized church on the islands, appealed to Presbyterian authorities in Jamaica for assistance in setting one up.

It is not known what year the first church structure was built on the Gun Bay site, but it was destroyed by a storm in 1903. The present church was built in 1907.

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