Hail damage to Merimbula church causes temporary relocation

Parish Secretary Sandra Bray in front of the hail damaged St Joseph’s Church in Merimbula. Photo Chris Gordon.

There’s an old motto attributed to American Postal workers that goes something  like this: “Neither rain, nor snow, now sleet nor hail shall keep the postmen from his assigned rounds.”

It could just as easily fit St Peter’s Parish after a hail storm flooded St Joseph’s Church in Merimbula and new arrangements had to be made at a moment’s notice.

Parish Secretary Sandra Bray was one of the first to hear the news when large hail stones riddled the roof of St Joseph’s until it leaked like a sieve and began to fill with water.

“It was the sixteenth of December, a Sunday,” Sandra said.

“A choir was in there singing when the hail hit. They rang me at home and I said you better lock the church, turn the power off and go home.”

The damage was swift and the Church was quickly unusable.

“Water just poured through the roof and it was flooding inside the church, particularly the front part where the sanctuary is,” said Parish Priest Fr Pale Leota.

Just days before Christmas and with one of the biggest congregations of the year expected, they needed a quick solution and a suitable venue.

“We decided to move down to Lumen Christi School Hall,” Fr Pale recounted.

“Due to its capacity it could cater to the number of people down here holidaying and visiting over Christmas. The hall is quite big – we couldn’t have fit everyone into Pambula Church.”

St Peter’s Church at Pambula which will temporarily host the Masses normally conducted at Merimbula. Photo Chris Gordon.

Since the storm, Masses were being held at Lumen Christi, but as the seasonal tourist numbers have dropped, they’ve recently been moved to St Peter’s at Pambula.

Finding a venue for Mass was one thing. Getting word out that the Church was closed and Mass would be at Lumen Christi was another.

Fortunately the local radio station and Merimbula News Weekly were quick to help and, added to a ring around and word of mouth, the temporary relocation was successful.

That still left the biggest problem. Assessing the roof for insurance and repair.

Sandra got straight onto the phone and spoke to Archdiocese Chancellor Victor Dunn and then to Catholic Church Insurance, who said they’d been inundated with storm related claims.

“But they were swift to assist us and soon figured out asbestos was involved,” she said.

“They got in touch with their assessor and he came down and found it was positive for Asbestos, so they sent down a team to fence it all off. That was just two days after the hail damage so they were really very quick.”

Updated advice informed Sandra that a hygienist would need to spray every 10 days for safety to seal off the fibres, adding thousands to the cost of repairs. Initial assessments and testing indicate the Church will now be out of use for between three and five months.

“Ideally, we’d like them to replace the whole roof because it’s all got asbestos now but we’re hoping that the insurance will cover it,” Fr Pale added.

The changes have impacted on parishioners, some more than others, not just in terms of their regular habits and routines, but also in terms of transport and accessibility.

Fr Pale said he understands this is a difficult time and said they have tried to do their best to balance acting quickly with responding to parishioners concerns.

“We really didn’t have much opportunity for consultation in the first instance… we had to act fast,” he said.

“Also many parishioners were still away and able to consult with. But we’ve now been able to consult more broadly. We realise it’s difficult and we’ve tried to find the best options but, whatever we decided, there was no option to stay.”

The changes of venue have now been advertised in the Parish Bulletin and a number of people have offered to assist with transport.

St Peter’s Church at Pambula sits around 120 people… less than the 300 capacity at St Joseph’s but enough for most weekends with two morning masses being held.

Come the Easter holidays, however, a bigger option will be needed.

“Pambula may struggle to cater for the holiday numbers, so to accommodate that we will be transferring service down to Our Lady of the Sea in Eden which holds around 300 people.”

“There’ll be some disruption for a while but we’re doing our best and we’re just glad no-one was hurt.”

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