On Saturday, December 16, Pastor Randy Magnus conducted the funeral for Marie Savaria, 62. He had never met Savaria, and she had never attended his church, the Roseville UB church in Ayr, Ontario. It’s quite a story.
Savaria, a former nurse and hospital manager from Kitchener, Ontario, was on her way to visit her mother in a nursing home. About a month earlier, she had blacked out while at home; she had a medical scan scheduled on December 12 to determine what might be going on. Now she blacked out while driving. As she fell unconscious, her foot pressed the accelerator. The Nissan Rogue SUV swerved into a ditch and then went airborne, crashing into the side of the church at over 60 miles per hour.
Chris McElroy, the church janitor, was standing on the church stage about five feet from where the SUV hit. He ran outside and helped pull Savaria from the smoking car, which had fallen atop his own car in the church parking lot. She died in the crash. It was about 2:00 pm.
Now for the uplifting part.
Savaria’s daughter, Kelly Henderson, flew from her home in British Columbia to Ontario. She wanted to see the crash site, so a police officer drove her to the church on December 10. The congregation was having a fellowship time after the worship service. Pastor Magnus and Wilf Witzke, who witnessed the crash, went out and spoke to them, offered comfort, and prayed with them.
Magnus said, “I told them the whole church family was hurting for them and wanted to help in any way we could, even with the funeral.”
Henderson had feared the congregation would be upset. Instead, the congregation rallied around her with support, prayer, and tears. Anderson said amidst her grief, “If it had to happen anywhere, I guess I feel blessed that it happened at a church with people who are so loving and supportive.”
Since the family had no church connections,Henderson asked Pastor Magnus if he would preside at a celebration of life service for her mother. He gladly agreed. He was able to spend time with the family, hear many stories of Marie’s life, read Scripture with them, and pray for them.
Over 200 people attended the service on Saturday, December 16. Several family members spoke about Marie, and Randy shared some stories he’d heard about her. “I was also given the opportunity to talk about heaven and share the Good News of God’s love and forgiveness and the hope that Christ came to bring us with the largely unchurched crowd. We pray that the Lord will bring fruit from seeds that were planted.”
Henderson also asked that memorial gifts for her mother be channeled to the Roseville church—a church her mother, a non-practicing Catholic, had never attended. The funeral was held on Saturday, December 16.
Said Magnus, “It’s almost like God put us together so we could be there to help each other. For a life to be lost is way bigger than bricks and mortar.”
The church started out in 1881 as a Lutheran church, was sold to Methodists, and ended up in United Brethren hands. When the crash occurred, the congregation had just completed $10,000 of renovations. The crash caused way too much structural damage. The impact transferred through the platform to affect the far wall, shifting both the north and south walls off the foundation. Construction engineers said the foundation would need to be rebuilt, but doubted that the church would gain approval to rebuild in the same spot, since it was located so close to the road.
The practical solution is to demolish the existing sanctuary and rebuild elsewhere, perhaps on the same property. Fortunately, insurance will completely cover the loss. A building committee has already been established. Said Magnus, “We have been feeling the need for a larger sanctuary for years, but felt like we couldn’t afford to build it. It feels like God is using this tragic accident to open new windows of opportunity.”
Seven churches in the area offered to share their facilities with Roseville UB, but that won’t be necessary. They set up 130 chairs in the fellowship hall, located in an undamaged Christian education wing built in 1974. They will hold services there until the new building is ready.
Magnus: “The whole church family rallied together the day after the tragic accident to move everything we could from the sanctuary to the fellowship hall and decorate for Christmas. It was very warm and cozy as the church family gathered to celebrate Christ, grieve our loss, and pray for the family of Marie Savaria, whose loss of mom/grandma is so much greater than ours. Also, we have been so blessed by our seven churches in the area offering that we could worship in their facilities, though we won’t need to.”
He added, “I’m so proud of our people and their attitude and approach to the whole situation. We believe the church is more than the building, it is a group of people who believe in Jesus living out their faith by loving each other and those around them. It’s great to see everyone pulling together, encouraging one another, and especially reaching out to total strangers with the love of our Savior.”