Congregational Church of Patchogue earns $20K 'Sacred Sites' grant


As Congregational Church of Patchogue pastor Dwight Lee Wolter put it, if you were 127 years old, you’d have leaks, squeaky hinges and well-being issues too.

He was referring to the stately church on Main Street he shepherds, a Romanesque Revival structure a couple of hundred feet east of the Patchogue Theatre for the Performing Arts, designed by architects Lawrence B. Valk and Sons. Constructed by local masons in 1892, it recently received a Sacred Sites grant from the New York Landmarks Conservancy. The conservancy’s Long Island Sacred Sites grants are made possible with the generous support of the Robert David Lion Gardiner Foundation.

The $20,000 grant to help repair the roof comes with a caveat, however: It is a matching grant, and the church will have to raise $20,000 on its own as well to get the money.

“This church was built when there was no electricity and heating,” said Wolter, emphasizing its age. “The original car port was built for horse and carriage.” 

Realistically, the church needs $90,000 for a thorough job. “To do something piecemeal, it won’t work,” he said. “You can’t patch it here and there. No, we need surgery.”

Wolter is percolating possible solutions for funding. The church never had a gala, which might be a likelihood, he said, a natural for the beautiful reception room that opens to the sanctuary. But for history buffs, the church will host a free Sacred Sites Open House on May 16 from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., with a concert at noon as a way to show off its holy treasures. That includes the huge organ with its more than 2,000 pipes and hidden stairways, the glorious windows, the choir lofts and bell tower. For those who just want to come in and sit, the space is a calm and nurturing space enveloped by the aura of a million prayers. 

Here are some of the issues:

Moisture gets into stained glass

Wolter itemized some of the maintenance challenges most people don’t think of. “These stained glass windows have lead seams and the building shifts,” Wolter explained. “The creators of the glass applied several layers to achieve their special coloration, so moisture gets in between them. And the ceilings at each stained glass window juncture have leaks.” He pointed to moisture outlines over the eastern grand window and also to the small holes in the ceiling. You have to look for the imperfections, but once alerted, [we saw] they were there.

Roof issues

“Flat roofs are a problem,” he said of the one located over the church Sunday school in the back parking lot. “It’s not like a slanted roof, where moisture slides off. When you have a heavy wet snow, it compresses, and when you walk on an old roof, you create a tear on the way to a tear,” he said. And there were particular challenges for the gabled roof in the front with its slate tiles. On a steep incline on the old section, to repair one, you can loosen two. 

Church sustainability

“The New York Landmarks Conservancy questions why are you viable,” Wolter said. “There are many churches in need of repair, but you have to prove your relevancy. No one would doubt that we are very conscientious about helping our neighbors, including veterans, Long Island Against Domestic Violence, our soup kitchen, food pantry, bike program, even giving gift cards out last year to those who were experiencing the government furlough.” The church also sponsors its Spirituality of Music series, where guests can sit in the sanctuary for free or give a donation and hear beautiful music made by talented local bands. The money funds the soup kitchen. 

Ann Friedman, director of the Sacred Sites Program, commented that all three grants submitted for Long Island were awarded, including Mount Sinai Congregational Church and First Presbyterian in Southold. “That was out of 25 statewide,” Friedman said. As for the church’s viability, “We were really impressed with the community outreach, the health screenings, access to shower facilities and barbershop services, and the arts concerts series was also impressive and innovative,” she said. “We try to come up with a number of individuals served beyond church members, so while they have 360 members — 100 who attend regularly — they serve more than 6,000 annually, and that’s a great multiplier. Also, it’s unusual masonry. Another part of our review, as our grants are matching grants, they are using the award as a fundraising tool; Rev. Wolter wrote a letter asking people to pledge to the match.” 


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