Heating costs forcing some N.S. churches to move to cheaper quarters

Sherry Martell
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NEW GLASGOW, N.S. - The high price of furnace oil is becoming a burden for some Nova Scotia church congregations which have had to find more cost-effective places to worship.
Geoff Tothill, treasurer of the Northumberland Parish, said the congregation at St. John the Baptist Anglican Church in River John, N.S., is contemplating moving winter services from the 130-year-old building to the church hall following the Christmas service.
"Our church is not insulated at all, it's the old style - open to the rafters - and that's a big cost for us," said Tothill, adding heat there usually costs about $2,500 annually.
He said in the last two years heating costs have increased about 30 per cent.
This time of year the church is used only about three hours a week for services and choir practices, but it takes several hours to warm the aging building, so the furnace is regulated by a timer.
He said other churches in the parish are experiencing similar challenges such as St. Andrew's in Wallace and St. George's in Pugwash.
The lady's guild in River John hosts three major fundraisers a month to help cover operating costs at the church.
"If it wasn't for that, I'm afraid we would have to close the doors of the church," said the treasurer. "It really is a sad situation."
Rev. Barb Fotheringham said the congregation of West River Presbyterian in Durham would be holding services in the hall next to the church from January to March to save significantly on heating bills.
This will be the second year the church has closed during the winter months.
"Certainly rising fuel costs are a challenge and we've done everything we could to reduce it," said Fotheringham.
She said heating the large, old building is a financial burden on the congregation, but also as caretakers of God's earth it is not good stewardship of resources to heat the large building.
Rev. Glen Matheson of First Presbyterian Church in New Glasgow said his church is doing extremely well in reducing its heating costs.
He said they studied fuel consumption for a one-year period, consulted experts and took steps to improve the heating system such as installing programmable thermostats and changing valves in the steam system.
"We have made massive reductions in consumption," said Matheson.
"By October 1 this year we spent $10,000 less than the same time last year."
Last year the church spent about $18,000 to heat the 95-year-old building, the largest church building by any denomination in the region.
He said the reduction in heating costs will allow the church to spend the funds they saved to support other programs and activities in the community instead of seeing it go up in smoke.

Organizations: Nova Scotia church, Baptist Anglican Church, First Presbyterian Church

Geographic location: NEW GLASGOW, River John, Wallace St. George's Pugwash Durham

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