The St. James Episcopal Church in Cannon Ball burned to the ground July 25, 2012. The church was a rock in the foundation of the small reservation community. The fire was no accident. It was arson. That fact compounds the sadness of the loss.
For the faithful though, there was no question about rebuilding the church. A congregaton from St. James had been a part of Cannon Ball for 122 years, and would continue in a new building. The new St. James Episcopal Church will be consecrated at 11 a.m. Saturday. Rt. Rev. Michael Smith , bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of North Dakota, will be the celebrant.
To lose a church, no matter the denomination, pains the spirit of its community. The sanctuary is a place where worship over decades has imbued the walls with prayer. Where generations of young men and women have been wed. Babies baptized. And, where funeral services have marked the passing of family members from this life.
The development and planning for the new St. James has that feeling of community in mind. There’s a sense of a tepee in the sweep of beams in the central section. Materials inside reflect the people and landscape of the reservation. It will blend with the lives of the congregation.
Early estimates were the church construction and furnishings would cost about $500,000. Fundraising exceeded that and has started a second phase, which aims at developing baseball and softball fields and picnic area.
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“We wanted to make sure that we were communicating to the community that we wanted them to come and use the place and offer hospitality,” said Rev. Canon John Floberg of the Episcopal Diocese’s North Dakota Council on Indian Ministries. “There was a danger after the arson that the thought was we had to be careful of our property and were trying to protect it, and in order to do that we were afraid we’d end up giving up a stiff arm to people in the community.”
People can know that this new church, a wooden structure of engaging design, will become as much a part of the community as the old church. How could it not? The church is its congregation.
“Even though they aren’t using this exact phrase, I’m getting the sense that people have a feeling of coming home (as they begin to use the new church),” Floberg said.
We hope that the new St. James Episcopal Church provides a home for those who seek it.