In the last few years, four of the longest established churches in Greenville have looked to their physical plants, raising new spires on their aging buildings.
St. James Episcopal Church is the most recent to take on the task of rehabbing a large structure to secure its future. First Baptist, First Presbyterian and St. Joseph Catholic Church have all had recent steeple and roof work completed.
The scaffolding on the three steeples on the south end of the building isn’t the only part of the recently started project.
A previous roof installation produced several problems for the church and the membership decided to repair those items.
After a drone survey with the assistance of a Jackson-based roofing company that showed weather damage, the church’s insurance company allowed the work to proceed.
According to The Very Rev. Brandt Dick, rector at St. James, the project entails more than just roof repair.
“We’ve replaced all of the shingles on the parish hall, the office section, and the church proper. We are using copper for the steeples because they are so difficult to re-shingle, so we never wanted to have to worry about it again,” Dick said. “There were also several small stained-glass windows in the central steeple that we are having cleaned and re-leaded. We had already had all of the other windows in the nave refurbished. We are also replacing the wooden doors; the current ones are showing their age.”
While the state of the roof was in decline, it was less a catastrophe than a constant headache.
“For the most part, the leaks have been more annoying than anything,” Dick said. “We did have one rainstorm that caused water to get into our organ loft. That took quite a bit of work to repair. We also had to replace the ceiling in the chancel area (where the choir, organ, and altar are) after a section fell in right at the beginning of the quarantine last year.”
Though the church was the beneficiary of insurance dollars, it also took funding from the church itself.
“Thanks to the good stewardship of our finance committee over the years, our capital fund had sufficient money in it to supplement the insurance so we are able to take care of the property that we have been entrusted with,” Dick said. “Putting off the needed work or only partially addressing it would only leave more for those who come after us to do. Right now, we are at a point where we can do the work and free future generations from worry.”
While funds spent on the restoration work may not be directly spent on community care, the building is part of the church’s mission.
“We don’t own the buildings. They have been entrusted to us for future generations,” Dick said. “We need to do what we can to preserve them. While I understand the discussion about ‘Why spend money on buildings when we could spend it on people?’ I think there is justification for making beautiful church buildings.”
The buildings are more than just pretty structures.
“Churches are consulates for the kingdom of heaven,” Dick said. “A church building is sacramental in that it points to the greater glory of God. Not every church needs a beautiful building or even a building — the church is the people, after all — but if a church already has one, built by those who came before, there is a justification for good stewardship.”
While the church building is not the church, buildings of all kinds can be differently important to the congregants.
“The essence of the Episcopal Church is that folks can do church in different ways,” Dick said. “Some folks feel closer to God meeting in a rented space. Others prefer cathedrals. Some people like praise bands and smoke machines at the services; others, organs and incense. What is important is not how we worship, but who we worship. In our case, we don’t have to make a choice between people and buildings.”
While the work was going on to repair the building, the church continued its long-standing mission of community support.
The recently completed Harvest Bazaar raises thousands of dollars each year that go completely to outreach, and the Annis’ Children ministry is making a difference in the foster care system in Washington County.
“This year alone, AC is providing Christmas presents for 60 foster children and providing food and household supplies for an additional 30 families and their 73 children,” Dick said. “The same stewardship that makes repairs to our building possible also provides funds for our outreach ministries.”
The church’s physical plant is under the charge of a member called the Junior Ward. Currently, Brad Jones holds the position.
“Brad has done an incredible job shepherding both this project and our previous ceiling project. He has pulled together all kinds of contractors and specialists to make some really intricate projects happen in a smooth and professional way,” Dick said. “From dealing with insurance adjusters to the scaffolding guys, Brad has done a great job in caring for our assets at St. James.”
St. James’ parish was established in the 1800s. The current building was built in 1950 in response to the growing number of members. The education building that currently houses St. James’ Day School was built in the 1960s to house Sunday School classes.