St. Stephen’s new face rejuvenates old faith

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Years of fund-raising and months of construction has finally resulted in St. Stephen’s United Methodist Church being restored to its original glory, an accomplishment reflected in the joyous smiles of those gathered for its rededication Sunday.

After the ceremony, congregants met in the basement of the church in William Tieck Hall, they listened to Rev. Nathaniel Dixon’s jazz group and talked with their neighbors.

Congregation member Chella Das dragged a reporter outside to look at what he called an “accidental joy.” One of the newly-installed ceiling lights at the front of the church could not be turned off for two days for lack of a lightswitch and shined through the stained glass window on the corner of the church. From the sidewalk on Marble Hill Avenue, Mr. Das pointed up. The window was glowing.

Mr. Das, who has been attending St. Stephen’s for 30 years, said the window — once covered in grime — had never looked so beautiful.

After the major restoration of the front and one side of St. Stephen’s, the church once again looks like it did in 1898, the year the building, designed by Alexander McMillan Welch, was originally completed.

It was considered one of the most beautiful houses of worship in the area. For 50 years, the church deteriorated until it was given a renovation in the 1950s. Some of the original intricacies of Mr. Welch’s design were covered up or removed. Another 50-plus years saw the church beaten by the weather and slowly decaying. Hardly any light shone through the stained glass.

Two years ago, Rev. Dixon and a group of dedicated individuals decided to do something about it. The restoration committee, as they called themselves, began a vigorous fund-raising campaign. The Park Avenue United Methodist Church Trust Fund and the United Methodist City Society donated $150,000 each and the congregation itself far surpassed its original goal of $50,000.

But unforeseen water damage needed to be fixed. So parishioners started a shingle campaign, selling old shingles and letting people sign the backs of the new ones that have now been installed. They aimed to raise $5,000 and surpassed that goal, too.

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