The community of Merritt is mourning a fallen landmark.
The Murray United Church stood on Highway 5A in the Nicola Valley for 143 years, until an arsonist struck earlier this year.
“You can see… there’s nothing there,” said Jack Polmans, the Trinity United Church board director.
“It’s just so sad.”
Before it was torched in the middle of the night, the tourist attraction had weathered weddings and funerals. On Sunday, its Merritt-area congregation held a memorial service to say farewell to what was the oldest building in the Nicola Valley.
“The remains of the Murray United Church, Nicola, B.C., 1876 to January 11, 2019,” announced Polmans as he clutched an urn containing some church items salvaged from the ashes.
The inferno that destroyed the historic wooden structure was one of at least two suspicious overnight church fires in the Merritt area on Jan. 11, 2019. Community members are still shocked and saddened by the loss.
“Anger, how dare somebody do that,” said Linda Baird of Trinity United Church.
“What’s really sad about it, we spent the last three years rebuilding,” Polmans told Global News.
WATCH: Two Merritt churches hit by arson
In 2018, citizens completed a three-year project to upgrade the Murray Church, funded by Canada 150 grant money.
More than 2500 hours of volunteer work saw the inside and outside repainted, the windows and cemetery walkways repaired and a stained glass window replaced.
Polmans says the tragedy is even more difficult to comprehend given the fire was not accidental in nature.
“When it’s arson, there is no worse crime,” he said.
August David Caprian of Merritt is charged with arson and set to appear in court May 6. The 37-year-old was arrested Jan. 17 in relation to four church arsons reported in the Merritt area on Jan. 11.
After flames ravaged the church building, the chimney was the only remnant rising from the ashes. It has since been knocked down during a powerful windstorm.
“It’s time to say farewell, we’re doing “The Last Post,” said Baird.
The ceremony marks a farewell, but not a final goodbye.
Plans are in the works to rebuild a replica of the original Murray Church. The tight-knit congregation is hoping the community will help them raise enough cash to revive their beloved church.
Donations can be made to the Murray Church Project.