St. Paul’s launches campaign to fix iconic steeple

St. Paul’s launches campaign to fix iconic steeple

The steeple of St. Paul’s Methodist Church in Northport has been leaking for more than a decade. Photos by Sara-Megan Walsh

A Northport congregation is praying for community help in order to save a pinnacle of the town’s history and landscape.

St. Paul’s Methodist Church has launched a capital campaign seeking to raise $300,000 to make structural repairs to the building’s historic steeple and preserve the sanctuary’s stained glass windows. The parish has found innovative ways to deal with the leaking steeple for nearly a decade, but the need for restoration has heightened as more extensive damage has occurred over time.

Pastor Kristina Hansen, religious leader of St. Paul’s, said the issue of rainwater leaking into the church’s sanctuary predates her arrival in 2010. Parishioner Alex Edwards-Bourdrez, who has been at the church for 26 years,  said determining the leak’s source took a lot of guesswork. Churchgoers used pots and pans to catch the water for years, and Hansen said the church even replaced the building’s roof “at hefty cost,” which did little to solve the problem.

“That’s when we realized the real problem was the steeple,” she said. “The steeple was the culprit all along. It’s gotten to a point we can’t ignore or make do anymore.”

The church’s original steeple, built in 1873, is iconic, made of white-painted wooden boards with a copper dome on top. It’s steeped in more than rainwater, as throughout the decade parishioners have signed their names on the walls of the bell tower as they’ve made confirmation or held a position of service in the congregation.

A stained glass window in the church’s sanctuary. Photo by Sara-Megan Walsh

Edwards-Bourdrez said the steeple’s leak has gradually limited church activities, restricting use of the balcony for seating and preventing performance of the bell choir during inclement weather.

St. Paul’s has had a number of different construction firms come to review the damage and give estimates on the cost of repairs to preserve the historic structure, Hansen said. Initial prices range from $125,000 to $150,000, according to the pastor, but that could increase once scaffolding is built and a closer inspection is made of the two- to three-story high structure. The church has had temporary repairs done to prevent any further damage at the moment.

“Right now, for the first time in a decade, it isn’t leaking, but it’s not going to hold,” she said.

In addition to repairs to the steeple, the pastor said that the church is seeking donors to help preserve the sanctuary’s turn-of-the-century stained glass windows. The leading between sections of glass has started to deteriorate, which leaves the weight of the stained glass unsupported and prone to collapse. The estimated cost of repairing a single window can run more than $20,000, according to Hansen.

“I don’t know how much of the original work is still being done anymore,” she said. “It’s a part of the character of the sanctuary.”

The parish is hoping with the community’s support to upgrade its bathrooms, which are frequently used by residents for athletic events, artistic performances and local organizations like the Boy Scouts. This past Cow Harbor Day, churchgoers invited runners and spectators in need of a restroom inside to use the outdated facilities. The church wants to update its bathrooms and stairways to be fully handicapped accessible.

“With how many people we have in our building, we want our hospitality to be better,” Hansen said. “Any way we can make it more accessible, we want to do.”

The church’s capital campaign has already found support in the Northport community with John W. Engeman Theatre at Northport offering to donate $25,000 over the next three years. Hansen said a golf fundraiser is being held Oct. 16, with more events being planned in the upcoming weeks.

Jo Ann Katz, owner of Northport Plays, said the church has “been her home” for Northport Reader’s Theater and the Northport One-Act Play Festival over the years. It has provided a location for Long Island theater groups and actors to come together, with the yearly festival taking place on the parish’s stage in the gymnasium.

Katz will coproduce a special performance of “Ever Random,” a new play written by Long Island playwright Patrick Sherrard, to benefit St. Paul’s Nov. 5 at 3 p.m. The play is described as a touching comedy that explores a family’s struggles in the wake of a great loss. The show recently finished its September run at Manhattan Repertory Theatre.

Tickets cost $15 and reservations can be made by visiting www.brownpapertickets.com/event/3099845.

Hansen said St. Paul’s members are grateful for the community coming together to support the steeple’s repair.

“You can see the steeple from the harbor as you are coming up the street. It’s one of those iconic marks,” she said. “The fact is it’s compromising this beautiful sanctuary.”

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