The centuries-old Chestnut Hill Church has undertaken an ambitious fundraising campaign to save its steeple, which suffered damage during Superstorm Sandy.
Pastor John Binde said in a recent email that the congregation "must raise an enormous amount of money to repair our steeple."
The current cost estimate for the project is $110,000.
"We have enlisted the help of a local artist, Diane Hutchinson, and author John Grogan (to help with fundraising)," Binde said.
Binde explained that Chestnut Hill Church is mentioned in Grogan's bestselling book, Marley & Me.
Grogan is a resident of Lower Milford Township and "graciously wrote a statement in support of our project," Binde said.
Grogan's statement is as follows:
"When I moved to Lower Milford Township in 1999, one of the things I immediately fell in love with was the view from my kitchen window. There, high on the next hill, stood the beautiful and historic Chestnut Hill Church with its majestic steeple climbing into the sky. At night it was especially beautiful, bathed in soft light, a beacon in the darkness. Soon I was directing my daily walks with my dog, Marley, up the hill to the church, where I would pause and take it all in: the beauty, the tranquility, the peaceful solitude of this special place. I swear I could hear the whispers of generations past as I stood there. What a wondrous place for people of all faiths to pause and reflect on life in all its glory and complexity. Please join me in helping the Chestnut Hill Church congregation raise the needed funds to keep this vibrant landmark the very special part of our community that it is."
The church also hopes to sell reproductions of Ms. Hutchinson’s painting, Sanctuary (pictured above), in order to raise funds, Binde explained.
Hutchinson's painting was commissioned last year to commemorate the 125th anniversary of the laying of the church's cornerstone, and she has donated her right of reproduction of the painting to help the church with its steeple project.
Reproductions of Sanctuary in the form of 18x24” color posters ($20 each), 5x7” greeting cards ($5 each or five for $20) and full-size, high quality art reproductions (costs vary by size) are now being offered for sale.
Call the church at 610-967-1196 or visit the Chestnut Hill Church website for more information about how to purchase the commemorative items, which will also be sold at the Lower Milford Township Fall Festival on Saturday, Sept. 28, Binde said.
Hutchinson's description of her work is as follows:
"The spirit of a church transcends the bricks and mortar that support its physical structure. It lies in the souls of its congregation, past, present and future. In this painting you will see the Past, symbolized by the serene resting place of the mortal remains of our forefathers, mothers and children who left this earth too soon. Their human forms lie in peace, but their souls live on. The Present, symbolized by the beautiful architecture of the church. Her steeple reaching far into the sky. You can see the glow from within, a sanctuary full of love and truth. The Future, seen in the garden, bursting forth with hope for the next generation of souls who will grace this sacred ground. Past, present, and future: the spiritual life of a Church."
Binde said that while the origins of the Chestnut Hill congregation are believed to date to the 1720s, the earliest written record that references Chestnut Hill Church is a deed dated March 3, 1757.
The first church building was a log structure with a gallery and an octagon-shaped roof, according to a history of the congregation he shared.
The cornerstone for the present brick church—with its iconic steeple that soars 140 feet above the ground—was laid on May 20, 1888.
"The brick church was completed in 1890 and was dedicated on Sept. 21, 1890," according to Binde. "The total cost of the brick church was $8,000."
More recently, in January 1992, the two congregations (Lutheran and Reformed) then worshipping at Chestnut Hill Church decided to consolidate and form one new congregation affiliated with the United Church of Christ, he said.
Photo: Sanctuary by Diane Hutchinson