Church avoids near miss with holey cross

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Photo courtesy of Emily Moore Rubble and ruin were all that remained after the old cross at St. Luke’s crumbled at the foot of the Coeur d’Alene church. Weather, water and a family of woodpeckers wreaked havoc on the steeple cross, which was already due to be replaced in November.

COEUR d’ALENE — The Lord is good, the Book of Nahum says, “a stronghold in the day of trouble, and he knows those who take refuge in him.”

Relevent words — certainly for a small family of Coeur d’Alene birds who survived catastrophe but still might have some explaining to do when they alight at the Pearly Gates to meet the Almighty.

This spring and summer, a flock of woodpeckers nested in the rotting wooden cross atop St. Luke’s Episcopal Church on Wallace Avenue. The decades-old steeple cross was slated for replacement and in the process of being removed by Specialty Tree Service on Oct. 2.

“We had noticed the rotting started sometime coming out of the winter,” facilities chairman John Albee, a member since 1973, told The Press. “We didn’t really realize how bad it was. When we got a better look, boy, the water damage had really gone to work on it.”

Blame Woody & Co.

“The woodpeckers dug down about 8 inches in the middle of the cross,” Albee said. “There was a lot of rot that was showing on the outside. Both the arms and the vertical piece were just all rot inside. The snow and rain had really done a number on it.”

Specialty Tree workers took a chain saw to the base and carefully carried the cross down their ladder, Albee said, only to see it disintegrate the instant it touched the ground.

“It was only held together by heavy paint,” Albee said. “There wasn’t much left to it.”

“We’re lucky it didn’t just crumble,” said Ann Rule, senior warden at St. Luke’s. “Maybe the woodpeckers were sent to give us a heads-up.”

The winged vandals and their nest were nowhere to be found amid the rubble. To borrow from the Book of Job — Book 19, Verse 20 — they escaped by the skin of their teeth.

“Those birds flew the coop before we took it down,” Albee said. “They flew off and found a new home, I guess.”

The cross, which looked over St. Luke’s for more than 25 years, was already scheduled to be replaced. After noticing its damage, staff contracted local artist Sarah Thompson Moore to create its replacement, one made of steel and lightweight concrete, as well as a smaller cross to sit near the church’s perimeter.

“These are the first crosses I’ve done,” Moore said. “And I love it. Every project is different for me. For example, I’m using a new material for these called pal tiya. It’s a lightweight, cement-based, fiber-reinforced concrete on the outside. It has the look of a stone sculpture, but it’s much more lightweight because of its foam core.”

Moore said the new cross, reinforced with steel, will be woodpecker-resistent.

“I love the material,” she said. “It does the job and is super-strong. It’s nice and lightweight, and I think it’s really cool. [The manufacturers] developed it specifically for outdoor sculptures … There are a lot of people who are going to be enjoying this for many, many years.”

The new cross will be installed in November, before Advent.

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