Soggy Church Vestibule Cleaned in Time for Christmas Eve Services

By Martin Weil
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, December 25, 2008

One of the most prominent and historic churches in the Washington region went through a trial by water yesterday before it managed to open for Christmas Eve services.

Water from a break in a fire-suppression system cascaded from the steeple of St. Anne's Episcopal Church in Annapolis on Tuesday night and rose in a vestibule.

"We had a waterfall," said the Rev. Gid Montjoy, the priest at St. Anne's, which traces its origins to the 1690s.

The current building, which is 149 years old, is the church's third on its site in the center of historic Annapolis. And when the water began to gush, so did the dirt and soot that had built up in the steeple since 1859, Montjoy said.

"It was a mess," he said last night.

But not beyond repair, restoration and redemption. The fire department was alerted. Fire equipment ringed the church, which is on Church Circle, the street near the Statehouse that took its name from the church built there.

Firefighters broke through the front door, and two feet of water, which had built up behind the door, "rushed out," Montjoy said. Fortunately, he added, only a relatively small amount of water had entered the sanctuary.

Montjoy said damage-control efforts by the fire department "were fantastic."

Among other things, he said, firefighters "had to walk through the waterfall to climb up into the steeple to get the water cut off."

After firefighters left, he said, three church staff members remained and "cleaned basically all night." The church's sexton, Peppy Lee, "spent the night," he said.

Yesterday morning, Montjoy said, the church "had everybody there we could muster."

It could be two months before the church is back to normal, he said. The cause of the system failure was not yet known.

Yesterday, the church's Web site said, "Christmas Services will be held as scheduled."

By last night, Montjoy said, two of the three services scheduled for Christmas Eve had been held and one more was to come.

Speaking of the trials and triumphs of the previous 24 hours, "it was wonderful," Montjoy said. "All of us came together."

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