St. Paul’s church to get major stained-glass makeover

VERGENNES — St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in Vergennes has two grants in hand to fund repair of the Main Street church’s three stained-glass windows that overlook the sidewalk across from the city green. The church also has successfully applied for a grant it hopes will move forward a joint sidewalk and landscaping project.
Members of the downtown church’s Strategic Investment in Sacred Places committee are optimistic both of those projects can be done this year.
“We do hope that the sidewalk will be completed and that the windows will have at least started by the end of 2019,” said St. Paul’s committee member Sarah Stroup.
Meanwhile the Strategic Investment committee is spearheading a larger vision for St. Paul’s, an 1834 church that sits on Main Street between Vergennes City Hall and the city’s central downtown green.
Church members — there are about 80, according to the committee members, and about half attend on Sundays — hope to create an extension of that city green on the lawn to the west of the church. Their plan includes refurbished stained-glass windows overlooking a new, more open space offering a Panton-stone sitting wall along the sidewalk, new plantings, and possibly steps up to the lawn.
They see that space as a community-service offering to Vergennes, and came up with the plan a couple years ago after interviewing as many as 30 community members and holding a public design meeting in the church’s parish hall.
“It was that long outreach process and series of conversations that led us to focus on this aspect of a community-connected project,” said Stroup. “We were thinking what is it we can offer. And what we have is this central location, right next to the green. It’s the sunniest spot in downtown. And in a summer afternoon our lawn is awesome, warm, bright, and right now perhaps a little overgrown and less welcome than it could be.”
The church’s discussions of blending community service, building repair and a landscaping project began in 2014, when St. Paul’s became one of 10 Vermont churches chosen to work with Philadelphia nonprofit Partners For Sacred Places.
That nonprofit consults with religious organizations of all denominations to, in committee member Sarah Cowan’s words, “work with the greater community to enhance their involvement with their buildings … to really try to maximize the use of the buildings, which has also ultimately the goal of preserving them.”
The Partners organization helped connect St. Paul’s with Vermont’s Division for Historic Preservation and other agencies and nonprofit sources of grants and support. It also awarded St. Paul’s a $5,000 planning grant that led to the creation of the Strategic Investment committee and then the community outreach.
Committee member Bo Price said during that phase people were surprised to see St. Paul’s interior after strolling or driving by it for so many years.
“There were people who came who had never been inside this building ever,” Price said. “It really is in the center of Vergennes, but they had never walked in the door. So it really was nice to have people see that we exist here in Vergennes.”
THIS COLORFUL STAINED-GLASS window (left) is one of three the members of St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in Vergennes hope to repair this year as part of a $67,500 project. The church has two grants in hand, roughly enough to fund repair of two of the windows, and members are confident of further funding. Behind the drab window covering on the right, is another window badly in need of repair. The project with replace the exterior coverings with transparent ones to create a pretty backdrop to a newly landscaped side lawn.
Photos courtesy of St. Paul’s
The outreach helped form the plan and brought the church to the stained-glass windows, especially the three that face west toward the green. Cowan said their deteriorating exterior Plexiglas covers do not allow the colorful windows to be seen from the exterior, and also are not properly ventilated. As a result, the covers trap heat that has warped the glass, which is pulling it away from the soldering that holds individual panes in place.
“The stained-glass expert we had look at them said these were by far the ones in the most immediate need,” Cowan said. “I sensed some panic, almost, in her notes.”
This past August the Episcopal Diocese of Vermont gave St. Paul’s a $22,500 grant, and in December the state awarded the church another $20,000, leaving the funding, in Stroup’s words, “one window short.”
The Walter Cerf Foundation turned down the church this past summer, but Stroup said the committee members were encouraged to re-apply if St. Paul’s came closer to the $67,500 finish line.
Stroup said the committee remains confident that at some point park users and Park Street passers-by will be able to admire restored stained-glass windows through modern, transparent coverings.
“We’d like to both repair the windows for historic preservation, but those will also be the backdrop for our green space,” she said.
In the meantime, they also have a plan for repairing sidewalk between the church and the city green (click here to read more about that project).
Committee members acknowledge more needs to be done to fund longer-range plans, which include more extensive landscaping, such as the steps in the stone wall and even rain gardens along the Main Street side of church property.
“We describe it as a four-part project,” said Price.
They plan to talk further to the Vergennes Partnership about fundraising, plus publicize and explain their plans at events such as this summer’s Vergennes Day as a way to further St. Paul’s community goals.
Cowan summed up.
“We are part of downtown Vergennes. And we see ourselves, and envision ourselves, being more of an extension of the green. Really, we want people to use our space,” she said. “We want there to be an opportunity for people to walk up on our side lawn here and sit in the sun.”
Andy Kirkaldy may be reached at [email protected].

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