$50K needed to replace historic church’s moss-eaten roof

Leaks beset 102-year-old St. George’s Episcopal Church

St. George’s Episcopal Church as it appeared in 2018. Photo courtesy of Nancy Bird

With its moss-covered roof, Cordova’s 102-year-old Episcopal church looks as quaint and cozy as a hobbit-hole. Unfortunately, the moss that adds to the church’s rustic charm is also causing its roof to deteriorate.

A structural engineer who visited Cordova in 2020 remarked on the problem.

“He was amazed at how the building had held up,” the Rev. Belle Mickelson said. “But he said there’s three things we need to do: replace the roof, replace the roof, replace the roof.”

Consecrated in 1919, St. George’s Episcopal Church was designed by the Rev. Eustace Paul Ziegler and built at a cost of $5,000, not adjusting for inflation. Now, the church requires a full roof replacement that organizers estimate will cost about $100,000, of which about $50,000 has been raised.

The church’s roof was last replaced around 1982, project manager Nancy Bird said. At that time, plywood and tar paper were used. Now, the church intends to install an ice and water shield, and to use materials that will discourage moss growth. The 1982 roof replacement did not include the church’s steeple, now one of the leakiest areas. A previous attempt to organize a roof replacement was stymied by the coronavirus pandemic. Proposals to replace the roof will be accepted until 4 p.m., March 26, and can be submitted by email at stgeorgescordova@gmail.com, by phone at 907-429-5800 or by mail at P.O. Box 849, Cordova.

So far, leaks have been too minor to disrupt church services, and volunteers have applied “Band-Aid” fixes to problem points around the steeple. However, it’s only a matter of time until severe leaks emerge, Bird said.

The Rev. Belle Mickelson leads Sunday service at St. George’s Episcopal Church, joined by parishioners on video chat. (Feb. 21, 2021) Photo by Zachary Snowdon Smith/The Cordova Times

“The moss is causing the shingles to rot, so we’re eventually going to have some major leaks,” Bird said. “But at this point, we’ve been very lucky. Somebody is looking out for us!”

Efforts to replace the church’s roof have been supported by philanthropic ex-Cordovans, by a generous tourist who donated part of her Permanent Fund Dividend, and by a grant from the Alaska Office of History and Archaeology, among other sources. However, the grant will run out by the end of September, creating additional time pressure for the project. Additionally, in early March, an anonymous supporter offered a $5,000 matching grant that will apply to all donations received through the end of June.

“I would very much like to see it go local, but we also need to get it done this year if at all possible,” Bird said. “If it gets postponed another year, we’ll just have to be praying hard that we don’t have any major leaks happen.”

Bird said that she would be willing to secure housing for a visiting contractor, and to help find volunteer or hired labor. A structural engineer’s report indicated the church’s foundation is in good shape, and Bird said she didn’t expect further costly repairs would be necessary in the coming years. Bird continues working to secure additional grant funding, she said.

Structural drawings of St. George’s Episcopal Church. Image courtesy of Jeremy Mauro and Mark Schara/Historic American Buildings Survey

St. George’s and the nearby Red Dragon Reading Room together comprise the “Red Dragon Historic District,” which was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1982. The Red Dragon Reading Room also recently underwent a roof replacement.

St. George’s has become a space for prayer and meditation for people of all faiths, Mickelson said.

“I walk into that building and I think of the hundreds of thousands of people who have prayed there and supported the church when it was needed,” Mickelson said. “We don’t want to let them down!”

Donations to the St. George’s roof fund can be made by mail at P.O. Box 849, Cordova, or online at cordovaepiscopal.org/donate/. Mailed contributions should include a note designating them for the roof fund.