DENHAM SPRINGS -- When the St. Francis Episcopal Church was first erected 40 years ago, its initial purpose was to serve as a temporary site until a bigger, more grand building could be built on the church’s five-acre lot.
It took nearly four decades, but the plans for that building are finally being drawn up.
The St. Francis Episcopal Church, nestled at the corner of Maple Street and Kay Drive in Denham Springs, recently began its long-awaited reconstruction process following the Great Flood of 2016.
The first phase of the rebuild officially started on Monday, June 26, when renovations on the 1,600-square foot administrative building got underway.
Reconstruction on the 2,600-square foot church will begin soon after that, as well as the construction of a new church that will eventually house the main sanctuary — a plan 40 years in the making.
Few members of the congregation thought this day would ever come, but after the historic flood last August brought 19 inches of water on into the buildings, it seemed like the time had finally arrived to fulfill those 40-year-old plans.
“This is the first time that we were able to see a window of opportunity to build a new church,” said Gerald Rainey, who was elected to be senior warden this year.
Church member Jim Bruce, a mechanical engineer for more than 30 years who’s acting as project manager for the rebuild, said the administrative building should be done by Aug. 15, with an expected move-in date of Sept. 1 of this year.
It will have offices for the secretary and priest as well as two meeting rooms, a kitchen and three classrooms.
But after that, the real construction takes off.
The 40-year-old church building will be rebuilt and turned into a parish hall, where St. Francis will hold its Sunday school classes and fellowship meetings.
While that’s going on, builders will also begin work on a new building that will house the church’s new sanctuary for Sunday services. Plans and designs for the two buildings are still being drawn up by Labarre Associates, the architectural firm hired for the project.
But Jay Labarre, founder of Labarre Associates, isn’t simply building a new church — he’s also planning for projects down the road. Bruce said Labarre is going to do a “master site plan” when locating the new church based on the potential for future buildings.
Bruce, whose experience running projects as an engineer spans three decades, said he believes the work on the two buildings could be finished by the end of next summer, but for now he’s aiming for September of 2018.
One thing is certain: There won’t be much money, if any, to spare.
“It’s going to be extremely tight,” Bruce said. “We’re going to have to take a leap of faith I guess is what you call it. Right now, we don’t have enough money to do what we want to do.
“But hopefully through donations and fundraisers, by the grace of God, we can get the money that we need to do everything.”
Fortunately for the church, some of that money has already come in.
In the last 11 months, Rainey said the church has received several donations from the community and the state as well as some from churches in the Florida and the Carolinas.
On Wednesday, St. Francis got a little more help.
Inside the church’s old gutted-out sanctuary, Rev. Michael Carlisle of Trinity Church in New Orleans presented a check worth $10,500 to nearly 25 members of the congregation who had gathered on a hot July morning. Also present was Bishop Morris Thompson of the Episcopal Diocese of Louisiana.
For Rainey and the rest of the congregation — which he has playfully dubbed a “working-class church” — every penny helps.
“They have no idea how grateful we are,” Rainey said after the check was presented.
Though a small bit in the grand scheme of things, Trinity’s donation moved St. Francis one step closer to being back in its own building.
Since the Great Flood, St. Francis has sandwiched its Sunday services in between the two at First United Methodist Church in Denham Springs, a five-minute drive from the Episcopal Church.
First United holds its traditional Sunday service at 8:30 a.m. and another smaller one at 11 a.m., but when its Sunday school classes start at 9:45 a.m., so does St. Francis’ lone church service of the week on the same property.
Rainey said he hopes that can change by next year, though he also hopes it’s just the beginning of the future changes for the Denham Springs church.
“We’re not building a church for us, per say — we’re building a church for the future,” Rainey said. “Someone else will add new buildings in the future, hopefully, so we want them to have a place for it all to fit. I guess you can call it a master plan.”