By Mac McLean • The Bulletin

If you go

Church member Fran O’Neal said Trinity Episcopal’s congregation has kept all of its community service programs going “despite the fact we have this huge void” that was left when an unknown arsonist set fire to its building in March 2013.

She’s hoping to raise money to support these efforts with a holiday bazaar that will feature homemade baked goods, hand-knitted scarves, as well as some paintings, photographs and other artwork created by Trinity members. The bazaar will also feature 12 antique brass pendant lanterns that hung in the church for decades and were replaced when its congregation rebuilt from the fire.

What: Trinity Episcopal Church Holiday Bazaar

When: 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Nov. 22

Where: St. Helens Hall, 231 NW Idaho Ave. in Bend.

Cost: Free

Contact: 541-382-5542

Peter Lovering stopped a tour of Trinity Episcopal Church’s main building in downtown Bend so he could admire some of the embellishments a Kirby Nagelhout Construction contractor put on an archway that led into the church’s upstairs chapel.

This room and the church’s main sanctuary or nave — which in their original form date back almost 90 years — were almost destroyed by a pair of fires set on March 6, 2013, that also damaged St. Helens Hall, an axillary church building just across the street.

“It started right here,” Lovering said as he pointed to a ladder that unintentionally marked the blaze’s ignition point. “They smashed the windows, got inside (this building and another church building) and started two fires at the exact same time.”

Led by Lovering, who serves as the church’s senior warden and supervised its rebuilding process, volunteers from Trinity’s congregation and a team of contractors it hired have spent the past 22 months rebuilding their historic building so the exterior of the church maintained its previous look.

They’ve also added some new touches — a sprinkler system that runs along the roof of the sanctuary, reinforced roof beams that support it, and a few other changes that will make the building compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act — that Lovering said will improve the church.

“We’re going to have a better building,” said Lovering, who expects the church will be ready for occupancy by the first week of December once the final touches are put on the building. “It’s going to be much better.”

But before Trinity will be ready for its re-opening celebration, the church’s members are holding a holiday bazaar on Nov. 22 to raise money for a series of community service and outreach programs — work that benefits the Family Kitchen, the Bethlehem Inn and a small city in Nicaragua — that did not skip a beat while the church recovered from its loss (see “If you go”).

This bazaar will feature baked goods, knitted clothing and other items Trinity’s congregation members made with their own hands. It will also feature a dozen lanterns that used to light the church’s sanctuary.

The chapel

According to a document that accompanies its entry into the National Register of History Places, Trinity Episcopal Church started in 1908 when a group of seven women formed an Episcopal Ladies Guild that met twice a week and performed community service projects in the village of Farewell Bend.

With help from A.M. Drake, the ladies guild quickly grew into a small congregation served by visiting ministers that met in people’s private homes until they built a small parish house that served as the base of their operations in 1919.

The congregation and the church continued to grow at a rapid pace — it hired a full-time minister, formed a choir that performed holiday concerts and started summer camps for children — and eventually grew large enough that it had to hold some of its meetings at the old Liberty Theater building in downtown Bend.

“By 1926-1927, plans for construction of a church building had gained momentum,” reads the church’s entry into the historic register. “Bishop (William) Remington noted the growth of the congregation and pointed out that the Oregon Missionary District ‘firmly believed in Bend and its future.’”

When it started construction of a new church building in May 1929, Trinity’s congregation moved parts of the old parish house — the upstairs of which had been converted into a small chapel — to land it received from the Drake family on the outskirts of downtown Bend.

The new church included a nave, a chancel and a gabled roof that rose 29 feet from the nave’s floor. Later expansion projects led to the addition of a 2,124-square-foot parish hall, a study, an altar guild room, restrooms, classroom and office space, according to the national register’s entry.

Each of these expansions stretched the church’s footprint farther to the east and north of where the old parish house had been moved and the original nave had been built. This part of the church building — its southwest corner — was completely destroyed by the March 2013 fire.

“By completely destroyed, I mean there was no wiring, heating or plumbing,” said Lovering . “It was all gone. Everything was gone.”

The fire

Trinity Sexton Mark Schlerf got a phone call from the Bend Police Department letting him know his church was on fire at about 3 a.m. March 6, 2013. He rushed down to the scene and remembers it was snowing when firefighters were putting out the blaze.

“Every fire department in the area was here,” Schlerf said as he looked back on the morning he watched parts of his church burn to the ground. “It was pretty sad. We gave a lot of hugs that day.”

According to news reports, an unknown arsonist or a group of arsonists set a total of seven fires that night that damaged Trinity’s main church building, St. Helens Hall, two cars, two garages and a wood pile.

More than a year and a half after the blaze, Lovering and other church members said they did not know if the Bend Police Department has identified a suspect or suspects in their investigation of these fires or if it has produced any leads. Lt. Nick Parker, a police department spokesman, said Thursday officers have recently started a top-to-bottom review of the case to make sure nothing was missed during their initial investigation.

Lovering said the fire wiped out almost 4,000 square feet of the church’s main building and caused part of the sanctuary roof to fall to the ground. But even though they weren’t destroyed by the flames, he said most of the sanctuary’s structure and ornaments — with the exception of stained glass windows, a few wall hangings, and the antique brass lanterns that are being sold at the bazaar — sustained so much water and smoke damage that they too have had to be replaced.

The second fire, which Lovering said was started at the same time as the first fire, did about $250,000 worth of damage to the old St. Helens Hall and left the congregation without an appropriate place to hold its services for 10 months.

Church members found a temporary home at the historic St. Francis of Assisi Catholic Church in downtown Bend for 10 months while they waited for the repairs at St. Helens Hall to be finished.

With the reconstruction effort in its final phases, Lovering said Trinity’s congregation may find a few surprises when they return to the church’s main building to celebrate its opening day.

He said the nave’s rafters have been reinforced so they can hold the building’s gabled roof and a pair of sprinkler pipes that were not there before. The nave is also getting a new set of lanterns that, as another sobering reminder of the fire, are designed to provide light and guide people to safety in case a disaster strikes and the power goes out.

They’ll also find a few changes to the church building that aren’t as noticeable, Lovering said, including: a concrete wheelchair ramp that has a gentler incline, wider doors and hallways, and a third bathroom situated outside the great hall that complies with the current Americans with Disabilities Act requirements. These features weren’t a part of the church’s building before because the city’s modern building codes simply did not exist when it was built, he said, finding a bright side to the fire’s destruction.

— Reporter: 541-617-7816, mmclean@bendbulletin.com

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