An ecumenical aftershock of the August earthquake 

Last month’s shake-up may have caused Grace Church’s structural problems

Congregants at Grace Episcopal Church will be worshiping in other churches' buildings until an unstable wall in their sanctuary is fixed.

Paul Bowers

Congregants at Grace Episcopal Church will be worshiping in other churches' buildings until an unstable wall in their sanctuary is fixed.

Charlestonians felt last month's 5.8-magnitude Virginia earthquake as a fleeting tremor, if they felt it at all. But at Grace Episcopal Church, the minor temblor appears to have been enough to push the congregation out of its 165-year-old sanctuary at 98 Wentworth St. — at least temporarily.

Church leaders began to take safety precautions two years ago, putting in 20 electronic sensors to monitor motion in the walls. One of the sensors alerted them to a problem last Friday: A clerestory wall (an interior wall held up by columns) was getting thicker, indicating that bricks were delaminating, or separating from each other. If the delamination continues, the wall could collapse.

Grace Church has survived worse: Union bombardment of the peninsula in 1863, the great Charleston Earthquake of 1886, and Hurricane Hugo in 1989. In recent years, the congregation funded a renovation project called Saving Grace, and now it looks like the bill for fixing the clerestory wall is up to them again. The Rev. Michael Wright, rector at the church, says he hasn't found any help from historical preservation societies, "but boy, we're open to suggestions."

In the name of safety, church leaders closed off the sanctuary this Sunday, and they will keep it shut until engineers find a way to fix the problem. In the meantime, they're holding some of their worship services at nearby St. Mary's Catholic Church and Mt. Zion AME Church.

"The good news in the story is that the community pulled together and we actually drew closer to our neighbors," Wright says.

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