Menu Contact/Location

Restoring church history-Foundation grants help preserve worship places

By Dave Copeland

They’re not pennies from heaven, but grants from the Pittsburgh History & Landmarks Foundation.

The foundation awarded 19 grants to historic religious properties in the Pittsburgh region for architectural restoration projects. The recipients will be honored today at an all-day workshop at the Episcopal Church of Nativity in Crafton.

Pittsburgh is one of only about a dozen regions with a formal program dedicated to preserving historic churches, said A. Robert Jaeger, co-founder of Partners for Sacred Places in Philadelphia.

“Too few cities are undertaking these type of efforts,” Jaeger said. “On the other hand, all we’re doing is really just a drop in the bucket – there is a great need for more funding and more support for these types of places.”

His 12-year-old group is the only national nonprofit organization that focuses on historic houses of worship.

A recent study by Partners for Sacred Places found that 80 percent of the people who use urban churches are nonmembers. That, coupled with the architectural significance of older churches, makes them important for cities, Jaeger said.

Those involved with the local projects agree.

“There’s a real character and spirituality in older churches,” said Barbara Thompson, who wrote the grant application for Brown Chapel A.M.E on the North Side. “I don’t think a lot of the newer churches, while beautiful in their own right, capture that character.”

Brown’s husband, Lawrence, is pastor for the 100-member congregation. The church will use the $2,000 grant for ceiling repairs and painting.

The project was spurred by the church’s senior choir; while volunteers have been working two nights a week since August to paint the walls of the sanctuary, the church needs to hire a professional company for the ceiling work.

Brown Chapel was built in 1903. Churches generally need to be more than 50 years old to be considered for the grants.

“It makes a big difference,” said Rev. Scott Quinn of the Episcopal Church of Nativity in Crafton. “As soon as we say we have a grant from the History & Landmarks Foundation, people in the congregation get very interested in the project.”

Nativity Episcopal used the $3,000 grant it received this year to replace window wells. Two years ago, the church used a similar grant to defray some of the $70,000 cost for replacing the church’s roof.

“One of our strategies is to think in terms of longer-term projects for the properties, rather than a finger-in-the-dike kind of approach,” said Foundation Operations Director Cathy McCollom. “We want to work with them over a longer period of time and make certain they have maintenance priorities, a master plan and that they’re thinking ahead.

Other criteria for the grants include churches that provide social services in their neighborhoods, have a viable congregation and are able to match the grant.

This is the sixth year the foundation has awarded the grants. This year, 26 churches applied. The foundation handed out $53,000 this year, up from $20,000 six years ago.

Jaeger said Pittsburgh’s religious architecture is noteworthy.

“Pittsburgh has one of finest collections of religious architecture in nation. A lot of important national architects, as well as some really talented regional architects, designed churches in Pittsburgh,” he said.

Victor Norman, a trustee at Bellefield Presbyterian in Oakland, said his church fits the criteria by offering several programs and social services to the University of Pittsburgh. The church is located across from the Pitt bookstore.

“Our attendance is actually higher than our membership, which is rare in Presbyterian churches,” Norman said. “Usually you have a lot of members who don’t always show up. We have a lot of members who all show up, then we have a lot of students and visitors as well.”

Bellefield received its second $3,000 grant for an ongoing stained-glass window restoration project. Currently, the church has replaced four of 25 windows in a project estimated to cost between $350,000 and $600,000, Norman said.

“This is going to keep going for years and years. It’s going to be a long time before we get them all done,” Norman said.

In addition to replacing the four windows, the church has used money from Landmarks, its members, and endowments to remove a plastic coating that had been applied to the outside of the windows. While originally designed to protect the windows, it yellowed over time and gave the church the appearance of being boarded up, Norman said.

Today’s program will feature workshops, including seminars on fund raising and grant writing and a tour of Nativity Episcopal, as well as the formal presentation of the grants.

Nativity Episcopal is the second oldest in Crafton and was built on land donated by the Craft family in 1908.

Some decedents of the family, which owned the farm land that became Crafton, still attend the church. An addition was built in 1955.

“The grants just feed on themselves. Once you get one, people are more willing to contribute,” Quinn said. “No one was more surprised by that than me.”

The following churches received grants of up to $3,000 for architectural restoration projects from the Pittsburgh History & Landmarks Foundation:

– Emsworth United Presbyterian Church, Emsworth
– First Presbyterian Church of Castle Shannon, Castle Shannon
– Monumental Baptist Church, Hill District
– New Life Community Baptist Church, Hill District
– Pittsburgh North Side Church of God, North Side
– St. James A.M.E. Church, East End
– St. Stephen, Hazelwood
– Zion Christian Church, Carrick
– Bellefield Presbyterian, Oakland
– Brown Chapel A.M.E., North Side
– Calvary United Methodist Church, Allegheny Way
– Calvert Memorial Presbyterian Church, Etna
– The Church of the Good Shepherd, Hazelwood
– Nativity Episcopal, Crafton
– Old St. Lukes, Scott Township
– St. Matthews A.M.E. Zion, Sewickley
– Verona United Methodist Church, Verona
– Wesley Center A.M.E. Zion, Hill District
– Deep Spring Temple, Sewickley

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

Pittsburgh History & Landmarks Foundation

100 West Station Square Drive, Suite 450

Pittsburgh, PA 15219

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