Menu Contact/Location

Grants help churches restore their beauty

By Violet Law
Friday, November 25, 2005

Rain no longer trickles down through the roof during worship services at the Pittsburgh New Church in Point Breeze.
New equipment at Zion Christian Church in Carrick allows Spanish-speaking members to understand and take part in worship services.

The stained-glass windows that filter light into the sanctuary of Bellefield Presbyterian Church in Oakland have been restored to their former glory.

In its 10th year, a program by Pittsburgh History & Landmarks Foundation that offers grants and technical assistance to houses of worship to maintain their facilities has not only helped preserve historically significant architecture in the region but has strengthened congregations that have wrestled with crumbling structures.

More than 130 grants have been awarded to 88 churches in Allegheny County during the past decade.

The program, which includes historic religious properties grants and technical assistance awards, began in 1996 with seed money from the Allegheny Foundation. A survey by the foundation at the time documented more than 6,000 architecturally significant religious structures in the county.

But most couldn’t qualify for any government grants for repairs because of the constitutional separation between church and state.

“The buildings were growing older, and their needs are increasing,” said Cathy McCollom, the foundation’s chief programs officer. She said that through the grant program, “we’ve been able to build the relationships with churches and watch their progress.”

The grants range from $2,000 to $8,000 and require matching donations from the receiving congregations. For those who have been awarded the grants, many repeatedly, these dollars have made a big impact.

When the Bellefield Presbyterian Church board members solicited bids several years ago to repair all of the Oakland church’s stained-glass windows, they found the price tag — roughly $400,000 — staggering.

But after seven grants, which totaled $20,650, the church’s members have mended the 15 windows that surround the sanctuary. They also received professional advice on masonry work on the sandstone facade.

“The most significant for us is that it has enabled us to keep the momentum going,” said Susan Norman, the church’s volunteer treasurer. The matching donation requirement, Norman said, has kept the congregation focused on budgeting the money where it is most needed and helped it chip away at what seems to be a gargantuan project. “It’s a good way to keep it moving along,” she said.

At Zion Christian Church in Carrick, a portion of one of the four grants awarded paid for a translation broadcasting unit, which helps Spanish-speaking members — who account for at least one-fifth of the church’s attendance — to follow the sermons and announcements.

With an $8,000 grant in 2004, the members of Pittsburgh New Church have patched up the long-deteroriating slate roof and don’t have to use buckets to catch the drops from the sanctuary. The new $8,000 grant will help repoint the masonry and fix the steeple.

“Now we can focus on religious and spiritual things,” said Steve David, who heads the church’s maintenance committee. “We’re not as much about the building as we’re about the congregation.”

Violet Law can be reached at or (412) 320-7884.

This article appeared in the Pittsburgh Tribune Review © Pittsburgh Tribune Review

Pittsburgh History & Landmarks Foundation

100 West Station Square Drive, Suite 450

Pittsburgh, PA 15219

Phone: 412-471-5808  |  Fax: 412-471-1633