Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Townsfolk Fill a Hole in the Sky Suburban Boston Community Pitches in to Replace a Church and Steeple Destroyed by Fire

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Townsfolk Fill a Hole in the Sky Suburban Boston Community Pitches in to Replace a Church and Steeple Destroyed by Fire

Article excerpt

JUST a year and a half ago, sheets of flame engulfed a 136-year-old Congregational church here, leaving nothing but smoldering ashes and a shocking "hole in the sky" where the steeple had been.

On a recent Saturday, the hole was filled again. Cheering broke out among several hundred onlookers as a towering 22-ton steeple - a replica of the original - was lifted by crane and set on top of the rebuilt Old South Union Church. For parishioners and townsfolk alike in this town just south of Boston, the engineering feat symbolized their triumph over despair. Their impressive show of unity resulted in the quick reconstruction of the edifice, first built in 1853.

"We lost a little wood, we lost a little steel, but what did we gain? We discovered an invisible bond between the church and the community," said longtime member Chester Kevitt, who wiped tears from his eyes as he watched the crane hoist the 73-foot steeple into place. "With all the trouble in the world, it's uplifting to know that beneath all that despair is a whole layer of good."

Within one hour of the May 1989 fire, caused by a heating gun used to remove paint during renovation work, the bank across the street set up a special fund and donated $5,000. A few days later, a nearby Roman Catholic church established a fund.

"The community enthusiasm and outpouring has been overwhelming," said Paul Baharian, co-chairman of Old South's funding-raising and publicity committee. A letter sent out last spring to local businesses drew more than $21,000, he said. Old South, a member of the United Church of Christ, "is perceived as a community focal point and landmark - that's why the community has pitched in to the extent it has."

The members themselves organized auctions, bottle drives, dances, band concerts, and golf tournaments to raise money. To date, about $1 million has been donated or pledged. …

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