The hymns were just a bit more joyous at an Edmonton church Sunday. The service, the first one in just over a year since the Highlands United Church was set on fire.
“To see that fire, to see the flames coming out of the office was just devastating, it was just heartbreaking,” congregant Wayne Youngward said.
Preschool teacher Melaine Harmsma was there when the fire broke out on the morning of Sept. 14, 2018.
“An alarm started to go off and I poked my head out of the room and saw a guy leave with what looked like a black box under his arm, and I thought, ‘oh my gosh there’s been someone who came and robbed the church’, so I ran outside and flagged one of my neighbours who had a cell phone,” explained Harmsma.
But at the time, a robbery was the least of the church’s problems.
Fire crews worked relentlessly to extinguish the blaze, but the building had already undergone extensive damage.
“When the fire happened, you’re doing your best to keep the family together, and you are standing on the principles and truth of saying lets remember… the church is not a building, its the people,” Highlands Rev. John Burrill said.
“But by the same token, you’ve seen this historic beautiful peace of architecture destroyed,” said Burrill.
The suspicious fire resulted in 90% of the building needing renovations. After more that a year, the congregation has now been welcomed back.
“I was just so happy to see it looking the way it used to and the way it should look, they’ve done some changes, a few upgrades but it still looked like the Highlands church I’ve known and loved my whole life,” said congregant Brianne Mudryk.
“When I first walked in here this morning my heart just sang because it was just wonderful to be back,” added Youngward.
While many enjoy the renovated building, they also say it shouldn’t have needed restoring in the first place.
While crews worked on the renovations, the congregation used the facility at the Edmonton South Seventh-Day Adventist Church.