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Parishioners share memories of 75-year-old church that burned in Chilliwack

‘Our kids got baptized in here, we got married in here,’ says man who helped build church in 1948
Ken Krause (centre) and wife Dorleen look at the remains of Cross Connection Church on Tuesday, Sept. 5, 2023. Ken helped build the church when he was 17 years old in 1948. (Jenna Hauck/ Chilliwack Progress)

“I built that church when I was 17 years old.”

Those were the words of Chilliwack resident Ken Krause as he stared at the charred remains of Cross Connection Church on Sept. 5, the morning after a fire completely destroyed the 75-year-old building on Williams Street.

He and his wife Dorleen heard about the fire the day it happened, but were advised not to head to the church at that time as the roads were blocked.

They decided to come first thing Tuesday morning instead.

When Dorleen was asked how she was doing, she replied “Not good. It’s terrible.”

The Krauses have 75 years of memories within the walls of the church which was built entirely by volunteers, like Ken, in 1948.

“A lot of memories there,” Ken said. “Our kids got baptized in here, we got married in here. Our daughter got married in here.”

But on Labour Day (Monday, Sept. 4) a fire that started in the attic of the church tore through the roof and demolished the entire building.

READ MORE: Chilliwack church goes up in flames on Labour Day

A total of 54 firefighters with the Chilliwack Fire Department battled the blaze for hours. Initially, crews tried to go inside the building but were forced to turn back due to heat and heavy smoke. They fought the fire high up using ladder trucks and from the ground for hours.

The following morning, yellow tape and barriers hugged the property.

On the southeast side of the church, the tan-coloured walls were still standing tall, the chimney was intact and the building’s highest peak was touching the sky.

But over on the northwest side, the church was gutted. Piles of burned debris lay where parishioners once sat for Sunday service, or for special events with family and friends.

“Engagements and weddings, etcetera, etcetera,” Dorleen recalled, her voice cracking.

Fellow parishioner Rita Martin has also been with the church for 75 years.

Her father and brothers were some of the volunteers who helped build it alongside Ken. Her family moved to Chilliwack in 1946. She grew up in the church and got married there, too.

The remains of Cross Connection Church are seen on Tuesday, Sept. 5, 2023 the day after a fire destroyed the 75-year-old building. (Jenna Hauck/ Chilliwack Progress)

Originally called the Evangelical United Brethren Church, it had a handful of different names before recently being renamed Cross Connection Church.

Before it was built in 1948, parishioners gathered at the old church on Wellington Avenue – and it was a popular place.

“When we first moved in here, there was no room in the auditorium for the choir to come down,” Ken said, adding that the choir had to stand in another section of the old church.

“It became far too small,” Martin added.

With an average of 200 people inside the church on any given Sunday, the old church was getting cramped, so construction began on the new and much bigger church on Williams Street.

“Matter of fact, it was the biggest church here in ’48 when it was first built,” Ken said.

Over the decades, there were additions built onto the church, and the neighbouring lot was purchased so they could add more parking.

Ken, who used to have an excavating business, was the one who did all the work to build the parking lot and the one who dug out the basement as part of a church addition.

These days, about 100 to 120 people would gather every Sunday, said Pastor Marty Bennett. The parking lot would be packed and the streets would be full of parked vehicles as well.

Today the parking lot is full of blackened rubble.

An excavator was brought in the evening of the fire to open up sections of the church so firefighters could access hot spots.

Walls were torn down, but crews were able to salvage a number of things. Several important documents and items were successfully retrieved and returned to members of the church that were at the scene of the fire.

But of all the items that survived the fire, one clearly stood out amid the others.

Standing sentry above the charred debris was a tall, thin cross – crooked, but unscathed.

A cross is seen unscathed on Sept. 5, 2023 following a fire that destroyed Cross Connection Church in Chilliwack the day before. (Jenna Hauck/ Chilliwack Progress)

Jenna Hauck

About the Author: Jenna Hauck

I started my career at The Chilliwack Progress in 2000 as a photojournalist.
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