The altar and wooden pews have been gone for years, but the little white church on Main Street in Jonesville still serves as a sanctuary.
“It’s very peaceful; truly it is,” said Lisa Nieradka, who lives in the refurbished building with her 13-year-old daughter, Allie.
Yellow-green light still filters through the stained-glass window that once illuminated the pulpit and the soaring ceiling draws the eye toward heaven.
Built in 1883, the Episcopal church was known as Grace Mission. It closed its doors to the public in the 1960s and for years was used by private owners as a garden shed, according to Carol Temple, who now owns the building with her husband, Victor.
The couple converted it to a residence in 1996.
The Temples live next to the church in what once was a boarding school, a building they renovated and moved to in 1978.
After living beside the vacant place of worship for years, they decided to purchase it. Unfortunately, the deal included a neighboring building that once served as a dormitory for the boarding school.
“That was a disaster, but [the sellers] knew nobody would buy that. Everybody wanted this,” she said, admiring the beautifully renovated worship space.
A lot of work to do
Temple couldn’t remember exactly what she and her husband paid for the two buildings, but said it was no more than $100,000.
Both structures needed to be completely renovated.
The church had no plumbing and barely any electricity.
“There were two wires and two switches,” Temple recalled, pointing out two glass insulators mounted high on the walls on either side of where the altar once stood, the only remaining evidence of the antiquated electrical system.
The original light switches worked the two opaque glass fixtures still suspended from the ceiling.
The structure was dark and cold. It had no insulation and was heated only by a wood stove.
All of the pale-green stained-glass windows on both sides of the building had been broken.
It took the Temples about a year to turn the world-weary place into a cozy home.
They cut five windows into the building’s face and added five more thin, rectangular panes to the back wall, beneath the large, arched stained-glass window that had remained intact.
Carol Temple made stained-glass panes to hang in the top half of six of the building’s replacement windows. Each is brightened by a different flower and framed in green glass salvaged from the church’s broken windows.
With assistance from their son, Tom, the couple added a loft and three bedrooms to the building.
The wood for the project came from the former boarding house next door, which was built in 1826.
Downstairs, a kitchen was added where the altar once stood and the minister’s study became the bathroom.
The bottom half of each original wall was removed so new wiring could be hidden inside.
The cedar floor was sanded and polished and the building’s exterior was pressure-washed.
“The paint just fell off, which was terrific,” Temple recalled.
The slate roof only needed a few shingles replaced.
All of the furniture had been removed from the building before the Temples bought it. The only memento they found was a stained, faded letter dated 1883, discovered beneath the altar when it was ripped up.
They also came across a mummified cat in the building’s crawl space. Temple has a picture of the surprisingly well-preserved creature. “It had a bullet hole in it or something, I don’t know. It could have been an abscess,” she speculated, pointing to a hole in one of the cat’s flanks.
Adding an organ
The Temples purchased a Burnett pump organ just like the one that would have been played in the church when services were held there.
“We paid $100 for it and paid somebody $1,000 to make it work,” Carol Temple recalled with a laugh.
The organ now sits near the front door.
Once building renovations were complete, Temple went up and down Main Street handing out invitations to an open house, so neighbors could take a look at the reincarnated structure.
The couple considered using it as a retirement home, but decided to rent it out instead.
The Nieradkas have lived there since September.
“It’s little, but there’s a lot of space,” Lisa Nieradka said, surveying the lovely church-turned-home.