Heavenly Day

On Sunday, Lovely Lane Methodist Church hopes to raise the roof as it gives thanks for its restored sanctuary and for those who've sacrificed to reach this milestone.

December 11, 2003|By Edward Gunts | Edward Gunts,SUN ARCHITECTURE CRITIC

It took four years to build Lovely Lane United Methodist Church, the Stanford White-designed landmark considered the mother church of American Methodism.

It has taken another 23 years to restore it, and the work isn't finished yet.

But members of the St. Paul Street congregation will gather at 3 p.m. Sunday to mark completion of a key phase of the building campaign - a $1.2 million restoration of the sanctuary to its 1887 appearance, including a 360-degree ceiling mural that evokes the heavens. In the process, they'll celebrate a milestone in the life of the congregation and one of the longest running and most successful preservation efforts in Baltimore.

"When people walk in here on the 14th of December, what they will see is what people saw at the dedication on Nov. 6, 1887, in terms of the colors of the dome, the carpet, the seats and the walls," said the Rev. Nancy Nedwell, Lovely Lane's pastor, during a recent tour of the building.

"It's gorgeous, isn't it?" Nedwell said. "The detail is just amazing. The ceiling is as close as we can determine to the original design. The only difference is that the building has electricity [and electrical lights], which it didn't have at first. It's much brighter now."

"This is the crowning moment of the restoration," said architect Roger Katzenberg, principal in charge for Kann & Associates. "It's great to see it through. ... It's just the way it was in 1887, except for the lights. The proudest thing for us is to almost have a room that looks as if Stanford White were there to open it."

The church at 2200 St. Paul St. is the fifth building of the congregation that began meeting in 1772 near Redwood and Calvert streets. Constructed beginning in 1884 as a centennial monument to the founding of American Methodism in 1784, it's an anchor for Baltimore's Old Goucher Historic District.

In 1977, the congregation commissioned a feasibility study that concluded the building needed extensive repairs, if the church were to stay where it was. The ceiling had water damage. Paint was peeling. Carpets were frayed. That led to a series of studies and improvements starting in 1980 with a state-funded historic structures report to guide the work and culminating with this year's restoration of the sanctuary.

Because the congregation wanted to initiate work only as funds became available, the restoration was completed in phases - cleaning the exterior, restoring the fellowship area, renovating the gym and locker rooms.

A turning point came in 2001 when the roof was replaced - tangible evidence to people outside the church that work was well under way. Only after the new terra cotta tile roof was in place could the congregation move on to restoring the sanctuary underneath.

"When we put the roof on ... it said not only to this congregation but to the community at large that this church is still in operation and we are not going anywhere," Nedwell said. "We're not going to the suburbs. This congregation is staying right here at the corner of St. Paul and 22nd streets."

For the past year, the congregation has been worshiping in a side chapel, while work proceeded on the sanctuary. Members held their first service in the restored space on Nov. 30. For Sunday's "grand rededication" ceremony, the opening hymn will be "Marching to Zion" - the same one members sang when they moved to the side chapel a year ago. David McAllister-Wilson, president of Wesley Theological Seminary, will be the guest speaker. Organist William Scanlan Murphy has composed music for the occasion.

Much-anticipated day

Nedwell, who came to Lovely Lane in 1999 and is its third pastor since 1977, said she's especially pleased for congregants who supported the effort from the beginning. After the Nov. 30 service, she recalled, "there were some people who said to me, `I never thought I'd live to see this day.' It was very moving to have them say that."

On Sunday, members and visitors will be able to see the sanctuary with its newly painted walls and domed ceiling, which depicts the sky on the night the church opened in 1887.

The woodwork has been cleaned. All 800 seats have been reupholstered. The floor is covered with new carpeting woven in China. The organ pipes were cleaned and regilded. The sound system was upgraded.

Besides Katzenberg, Mimi Giguere and Donald Kann were members of the architectural team. Henry H. Lewis was the general contractor. Hayles & Howe was responsible for the plasterwork. Matthew Mosca was the historic-paint consultant, and Thomas Moore Studios was the painter.

Funding came from a mix of public and private sources, including $300,000 from the France-Merrick Foundation, a large bequest from the estate of longtime member Carol Bates and tax credits for historic preservation from the state of Maryland.

As important as the restoration work is, Nedwell said, the rebuilding campaign is about much more than bricks and mortar. She sees the church as a "tool for ministry" in the surrounding community.

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