A Northport congregation’s prayers for help to save its historic steeple have not fallen on deaf ears.
St. Paul’s United Methodist Church received a $35,000 grant from New York Landmark Conservancy’s Sacred Sites program Dec. 4. The funds from the nonprofit organization, whose mission is to preserve and revitalize architecturally significant buildings, will be used to help restore the church’s historic steeple that towers over Northport village.
“We’re absolutely thrilled to hear that we’ve earned this to fund the steeple work,” said Greg Polli, chairman of St. Paul’s board of trustees.
St. Paul’s church, originally built in 1873, is a red-brick late Greek Revival-style church designed by local architect and builder B.T. Robbins. Rising from the building is the iconic, white-painted wooden shutter board steeple capped with a copper dome.
“Long Island’s long history is reflected in its religious architecture,” said Peg Breen, president of the New York Landmarks Conservancy. “The conservancy is pleased to be able to help this remarkable building continue to serve [its] congregations and communities.”
The Conservancy’s Sacred Sites grants are supported by the Robert David Lion Gardiner Foundation, a Hampton Bays nonprofit that supports the study of New York State history.
The bell tower’s issues date back more than a decade. Parishioner Alex Edwards-Bourdrez, a member of the church for 26 years, said churchgoers noticed rainwater was leaking into the sanctuary, but determining the source of the issue took a lot of guess work. For nearly a decade, St. Paul’s churchgoers used a system of pots and pans to catch the water and even went as far as to replace the building’s roof without solving the issue.
“That’s when we realized the real problem was the steeple,” said Pastor Kristina Hansen, former religious leader of St. Paul’s. “The steeple was the culprit all along.”
The leak gradually limited the church’s activities, according to Edwards-Bourdrez, restricting use of the balcony for seating and preventing performances of its bell choir during inclement weather. St. Paul’s launched a successful capital campaign in October 2017 that exceeded its original goal of raising $300,000, according to Polli, to make much-needed structural repairs that included the steeple, securing its aging stained-glass windows and upgrading its bathrooms to be handicapped accessible.
“Before we began the formal capital campaign, we communicated to our congregation what we wanted to do, asked what they wanted to do and what our priorities should be,” he said. “The steeple was the top priority.”
Polli said the church has received a preliminary estimate of $150,000 to repair the structure and hopes to start work in the early spring of 2019. Some interior projects, like the renovations of the womens bathroom, have already been completed.