Faith unshaken, Saugatuck Congregational Church celebrates joyous homecoming
Updated 10:32 am, Tuesday, March 10, 2015
"Heavenly," she said, describing how she felt as the congregation celebrated its official return to the church after a 2011 fire ravaged part of the structure. "It feels like coming home."
Patterson shared that emotion with a large crowd on hand for a rededication service that marked completion of extensive repairs and reconstruction in the wake of the blaze Nov. 20, 2011, which rendered the church unusable. The restored sanctuary was once again filled to capacity by hundreds of people -- members of the congregation and the community at large -- whose lives have been touched by church, and who look forward to the next chapter of the 183-year-old congregation.
"We are delighted to swing wide our doors ..." said the Rev. Alison J. Buttrick Patton, Saugatuck Congregational's minister, "and welcome back our community partners. The Saugatuck Nursery School returned to the building two weeks ago, Boy Scout Troop 36 is back, and many 12-step groups will be returning in the coming weeks."
"They did a great job," Lisa Betts of Westport, who was married at the church 29 years ago, said of the restoration. "It's gorgeous."
The rededication service included choirs and speakers, as well as special guests, including the Rev. Theodore "Ted" Hoskins, the former Saugatuck Congregational minister who retired to Maine 20 years ago.
"It feels great to see people again, I'll tell you that," said Hoskins, who served here from 1971 to 1994.
Regarding the fresh look of the building, he said, "Oh wow! It's just fantastic. They've really done a great job."
The project involved a balancing act between rebuilding the most heavily damaged sections of the church complex, primarily the offices, meeting rooms and classrooms, while freshening and refurbishing the historic elements that survived the flames.
Care was taken to restore the historic sanctuary's features such as original flooring, pews and replica windows. As a result of the renovations, rear second-story windows that had previously been boarded up have been opened to provide bright southern exposure.
Along with restoring other existing rooms, such as the quaint Fellowship Room, there are also unique additions. There is a second-story recreation room, as well as an upstairs worship room available for smaller services and choir rehearsals.
"I was here the day of the fire," recalled Heather Hamilton, director of music, who is relieved to be back in the building.
"It's a beautiful space," she said of the sanctuary. "The acoustics are phenomenal, quite frankly, and the newly built Steinway is phenomenal."
"It's very exciting," said Sara Walsh, who served on the building committee. "It feels like we're delivering the parishioners' spiritual house back to them."
"We worked long and hard," she added, "because you're constantly trying to find something that's appropriate to the building and the sanctuary at a cost that the insurance would cover."
"It's just fantastic to be back here," said Bob Mitchell, a longtime member of the church. "This is just incredible."
"God has shown on us," he said. "We've got beautiful weather and we hope this will be a fitting kick off to what will be a long stay in the church."
"From the troop perspective, it's great to be back," said Stephen Bean of Westport, an Eagle Scout with Troop 36, which had been housed at the church for decades prior to the fire.
"It feels like being home after so many years," he said. "We're pleased to get our equipment back here."
"The loss of a church can be devastating, especially one with such an historic presence in our community," said First Selectman Jim Marpe. "But it is in the face of despair that the very tenets of all faiths -- caring, acceptance, goodwill and common humanity -- are stressed and propelled to the forefront."