Church seeks aid, ways to help others after fire

Memorial celebration to be held for McPhetres Hall

Posted: Tuesday, March 14, 2006

Holy Trinity Episcopal Church leaders said Monday that they are working to keep their own disaster from hurting others in Juneau.

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The 110-year-old church was destroyed by fire Sunday. Its pastor and council members are now in the odd position of both looking for aid and worrying about how they can keep their community-service programs running.

"That's what our tradition is about," said church member Kim Laird. "We see ourselves as a community-focused church," she said.

In the coming weeks, the church plans to hold its regular Sunday services in the parish hall of the nearby Catholic church on Fifth Street, the Cathedral of the Nativity.

The church will also host a communitywide celebration in memorial of arts and community events held at its now-destroyed McPhetres Hall, next Sunday, from 1 to 3 p.m., in the Catholic church's parish hall.

While Holy Trinity set up a relief fund and worked at myriad other tasks on Monday, the few other Gold Street residents left homeless by Sunday's devastating 4:30 a.m. fire also attempted to put their lives back in order.

"Yesterday was a lot tougher than today," said an upbeat Tom Walls, who had escaped in his pants and jacket, carrying his cell phone.

Walls' cell phone was buzzing Monday with calls from friends offering help or a place to stay, he said.

Both Walls and Shelby Edwards, the owner of the destroyed house, spent part of their day on Monday filling out paperwork at the American Red Cross.

"They put us up in the Aspen Hotel for three nights," Walls said.

Capital City Fire and Rescue was still investigating the origin and cause of the fire Monday and the fire chief had no comment about the status or preliminary results of its investigation.

Firefighters remained at the scene of the fire all night Sunday until 8 a.m. Monday to watch for any flare-ups. None occurred, according to Fire Chief Eric Mohrmann.

The fire that struck the church and a house next door took everything - from historic artifacts and hymnals to the four guitars in Walls' basement apartment.

With all the offers of help from friends and family members, Walls said he isn't too worried about finding a place to stay. He is worried, however, about finding a new apartment to rent in downtown Juneau.

Walls did not have insurance on his possessions.

Holy Trinity does have insurance, but the church can't consult the policy right now because it was destroyed along with other paperwork in the fire, said Rev. George Silides.

The bishop serving the Alaska Diocese, the Right Rev. Mark MacDonald, flew to Juneau on Sunday night and held a meeting with the church council on Monday, Silides said.

The church's New York-based insurance company already is aware of the loss, Silides said.

Some of the Holy Trinity's nine council members had just been elected to office in January. "We had a great laugh about that today, already," Silides said. The punch line was along the lines of "Hi, and welcome to making decisions for the next 100 years," Silides said.

Silides said the church is also carrying an emotional burden because of its current inability to do community service work.

For example, from its large church kitchen, Holy Trinity had provided food to eight Juneau families through the local HeadStart program.

The church also provided space for local groups to hold 18 meetings per week, Silides said. Now the church has no space at all.

Bible studies, Lenten lunches, Wednesday prayer meetings and other church gatherings will continue at alternate locations, but the church will not be able to offer space to groups such as Theatre in the Rough and Opera to Go, Silides said. "This grieves us greatly," he said.

"The system is busted for the moment," Silides said.

• Elizabeth Bluemink can be reached at

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