Saint Anne’s Church: God Inspired by Amy Nicholson

I gasped when I read the headline on the front page of the Waterbury, Connecticut, Republican-American on May 23: “Demolition preparation for St. Anne’s Spires.” The paper sat on the table in the teacher’s lounge of the school where I was subbing that day. I had come in for lunch and casually glanced at it. Seeing the story immediately hurled me back 40 years and shook the floor at my feet in the present. Although I now live in Northfield, Connecticut, and attend a local church, I was born in Waterbury and grew up in Saint Anne’s.

I grabbed the paper and read the entire article. It explained that heavy marble boulders had begun falling from the 170-foot spires and crashing to the ground in December. The situation forced the city to close some roads. Experts suggested that the crumbling spires could be the result of water damage. Leaders hoped to level the spires down to the lower roof line and raise funds to build new ones. Since nearby Our Lady of Lourdes Church could not accommodate all of Saint Anne’s parishioners, another Waterbury church, Sacred Heart, reopened. Saint Anne’s would be closed indefinitely.

The story included two photos. The first was an image of workers hanging from a bucket cage attached to a crane. In preparation for the demolition, they were installing netting around a spire in order to prevent the stones from falling onto the church. The workers would begin placing scaffolding around the east steeple and disassembling the spire from the top down. The second photo was of the beautiful Gothic-style granite church itself, with its ever-recognizable green dome and the arm of a bright yellow crane extending beside the spire.

The sight of the photos and the news of the deconstruction and closure—whether it be short-term or longer—upset me a little. I was baptized at Saint Anne’s. It was the first place I sat in a pew and listened to a priest. My family has history there: my father’s parents, my Meme and Pepe, emigrated to the United States from Canada, settled down in Waterbury, and got married at Saint Anne’s in 1928.

Though I no longer attend Saint Anne’s, and I don’t even live in Waterbury anymore, I still look to this old stone church for stability. It is, without a doubt, an iconic structure. Every time I drive on Interstate 84, the raised highway that carries me over the city, I turn and glance at that magnificent green dome and those two tall spires. They were there when I was young. They are still there—for now—like anchors for my life of faith. If the church is an anchor for me, certainly it must be for others who still call the city their home.

Even so, I know that a church is more than a building. I know that no matter what the place where we worship looks like, we are the church. After his resurrection, in the Great Commission, Jesus said:

“Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age”

(Matt. 28:19–20). Jesus commissioned people, not stones and mortar. If we are the church, the church is wherever we are.

Jesus himself did not teach solely in the synagogue. Like the tabernacle of the Old Testament that was carried from one place to another, he traveled around: he was walking and talking and teaching people on the road and at meals and while fishing on the Sea of Galilee. It would seem a physical building wasn’t all that important to him. Our worship of him, likewise, should not be so constrained. I can worship Jesus just as well in a tent as in a cathedral. The original “church” of the disciples in the Book of Acts took place in “the upper room” of where they were staying (Acts 1:13).

If the strength of my faith is determined by the soundness of my local church’s physical structure, and something happens to that building, I’m in trouble. In Matthew 6:19–21, Jesus reminds us: “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and vermin destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moths and vermin do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”

Throughout history, churches have survived seemingly devastating physical loss, most recently exemplified by the fire at Notre Dame cathedral in Paris this past April. Saint Anne’s has endured two fires, one in 1971 and another in 1979. Yes, these wonderful old stone churches are gems, but, although they were inspired by God, He is not in their spires. The true treasure—the true church—is its people.

Today, churches face so many challenges. Attendance is down. Leaders scratch their heads wondering how to attract new parishioners. Some wonder if church is even relevant in this modern age. How can we make it relevant? How do we get people back into the building? With the decrease in attendance and finances a consideration, many churches have merged. Although services are not currently being held at Saint Anne’s, the community had previously joined with Our Lady of Lourdes to become All Saints Parish, or Todo los Santos.

To me, this is an auspicious time. Maybe we are returning to the church Christ intended. The disciples who met in the upper room “all joined together constantly in prayer”; “[t]hey devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer” (Acts. 1:14, 2:42). Their focus was on fellowship rather than location, the why as opposed to the where.

As we watch, perhaps tearfully, these old churches crumble, how are we to respond? Some fight for their preservation. Some attempt to renovate them. Some gather up bricks to build new houses of worship. Whatever our response, let us remember why the old churches were built in the first place: to worship God. Let us remember that whether we are in a stone edifice or not, we are the church.

Amy Nicholson hopes to encourage and inspire others through her writing. She has been published in Country Woman, the Old Schoolhouse, the Lookout, and other publications. In addition to writing and discovering grace in ordinary places, Amy substitute teaches. Visit her at:

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