by Robin Reid
An impressive stone-built United Methodist Church has graced the Shelburne Green for nearly 140 years. The sturdy, eye-catching construction is the result of rock quarried from the Adirondacks and transported on thick ice across Lake Champlain in the winter of 1871. Although the building blocks made it to the site, the final bids in the amount of $24,491.26 were not agreed upon until 1873. According to the church website, the building was dedicated on Feb. 18, 1874. The church is notable for its 49-foot steeple that sits atop an imposing 60-foot square bell tower. “Stone, steeple, and church all go together,” says Dave Ely, a long-time member of the Shelburne United Methodist Church (SUMC) and lay leader. Ely’s close involvement with the church over the years inspires him to consider this place of worship as an important element of the faith that exists within the congregation.
This stone church stands strong at a key location in Shelburne, a notoriously picturesque New England town. SUMC is a familiar and attractive landmark for many residents and travelers who are not members of the church. Ely and others became concerned that if proper maintenance remained untended, this inspirational structure would suffer over time and perhaps not be available for the appreciation and adoration of future generations. Although the steeple appears strong in its spire to the sky, inside are signs of wood rot and decaying timbers. Finally, Ely took on the role to chair the capital campaign to repair and restore the steeple.
SUMC is known to conduct and support many outreach missions– the Shelburne Food Shelf, Habitat for Humanity, Burlington Emergency Shelter, and Heifer Project, Intl. to name just a few. Despite the challenge of raising money for the church building with so much energy invested in various missions, Ely found tremendous support within the congregation. The SUMC is also known for town traditions such as the Fourth of July Chicken Barbecue, auction, white elephant, and book sale. Thankfully, the $450,000 campaign to fund a three-part restoration project that will include steeple restoration, masonry, and woodworking is nearly complete due to the generous contributions of so many. The quarter of a million dollar steeple portion of the project will begin the week of Aug.12, the same week that the Town of Shelburne will initiate its 250th birthday celebrations.
Chuck Dunham, a church trustee for 30 years has this to say, “The ‘Save the Steeple’ project, as we call it, includes re-pointing of the stonework as well as restoration of the very beautiful woodwork around the doors, windows, and dormers, and will all be accomplished to the very exacting standards of Historic Preservation requirements.” Pastor Gregory Smith is enthusiastic about the project, although he is already looking forward to when the construction phase will be over. Regular worship, Sunday services, choir practice, and special events will proceed as normally scheduled.
Jay Southgate of the renowned Southgate Steeplejacks is contracted to restore the steeple and will begin work in August. The SUMC congregation and all other admirers can be confident that the restoration will be completed on or close to the given date this coming December. Architect Tom Keefe will oversee the masonry repair and replacement of rotten woodwork.
Pastor Smith and layman Ely echoed the intent to preserve the integrity of the church for at least another 100 years. Those who attend church as well as those who pass by will continue to appreciate the aesthetic and spiritual value of the physical structure. Ely said that as he drove to church one Sunday, he mused that the steeple is “a signpost of where our earthly journey ends and our heavenly journey begins.”
For more information about SUMC, please visit the church or its website at www.gbgm-umc.org/sumcsbnvt.