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Church unseated

Laguna Presbyterian Church is losing its pews — for a good cause.

The church will donate its 80-year-old pews to a church in Louisiana that lost its pews during Hurricane Katrina.

Dismantling and donating the 85 pine and fir pews, which are estimated to be worth thousands of dollars, is the start of a $9-million project to renovate the aging church.

For the next year, the congregation will sit on stackable chairs in the Fellowship Hall at the church, Pastor Jerry Tankersley said.

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The pews will be disassembled and shipped to St. Genevieve, a Catholic church on the northern shore of Lake Pontchartrain in Slidell, La.

Much of the 19th century Catholic parish was destroyed in the flooding after Katrina.

Tankersley said the pews were constructed at the Laguna Lumber Yard, which sat across the street from the church on Forest Avenue where the Lumber Yard Mall stands now.

A team of about 25 headed by Rick Shoemaker will begin to break the historic pews down after the church service on June 3. They hope to have the pews disassembled and ready for transport by the following day.

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Tankersley said he’s happy the church has decided to donate the pews to a congregation in need instead of selling them.

“This is a great legacy we have here,” Tankersley said.

The church’s large sanctuary with ornate stained-glass windows will begin a year-long renovation soon after the pews are removed. Tankersley said the church is in dire need of the remodel.

The roofing is the original work from 1928, and the wood has shrunk, exposing the church to water damage during rain. If water damage from the roof isn’t enough, the church, as well as most of downtown, is in a tidal basin, and groundwater sometimes fills the basement of the sanctuary, Tankersley said. On top of all that, the building needs new walls and steel reinforcement to make it seismically sound.

“If we don’t do this now, it’s only a matter of time until the building is unusable,” Tankersley said.

Shoemaker said the need to renovate prompted the decision to donate the pews. This way, another church gets to use them, and Laguna Presbyterian won’t have to store them during renovation.

New cherrywood pews have been commissioned, Tankersley said.

Shoemaker said there is an excitement in the congregation about renewing the church, but there is also an element of caution.

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“We’re anxious about it because we know it’s going to be expensive,” Shoemaker said.

So far the church has raised about $4.3 million for the project. Tankersley said the church’s finances have had a history of running in the black, and he hopes to raise the $5 million quickly to keep the church out of long-term debt.


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