St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church in Armonk is on target to officially unveil its renovated sanctuary this fall in time to usher in the congregation’s 175th anniversary year.
Father Nils Chittenden said the unveiling of the restored interior will be celebrated at a special gathering on Sunday, Oct. 9.
“It is very close to being done,” Chittenden said last week. “We still have a few minor things but essentially all of the big stuff has happened.”
Work on the interior, which began in February, focused on remedying the deteriorated plaster, particularly in the 1889 addition, he said. All of the plaster in the sanctuary’s interior both in the chancel and the “main box,” built in 1842, was stripped down, renewed and repainted. In addition, the wood trim, including the pews, doors and window frames, have been sanded and repainted as has the floor.
“The portion from 1842 is actually in decent shape, although it had some cracks in it,” Chittenden said. “In 1889, I guess the guys used slightly inferior plaster or weren’t so careful about it because there’s a lot more damage in the 1889 plaster. There were big chunks falling off and sort of issues like that.”
An equally substantial portion of the project was the removal of the organ, which was necessitated because of the painting and plastering needed to be done on the back wall. The organ will be significantly upgraded when it is re-installed in time for Christmas, he said. It will be in a new case and be a combination of a pipe organ with an electronic component.
For the first couple of months there will be a portable instrument provided by the Peragallo Pipe Organ Co. of Paterson, N.J., the company doing the organ work. Once the sanctuary is fully functioning, Chittenden expects the church to schedule concerts and other events.
Since February, most services have been held in the parish house. Special services and holidays have been celebrated at St. Mary’s at East Middle Patent and Hickory Kingdom roads.
For a relatively small church that has had its ups and downs through the generations, completing a major renovation will lift the spirits of the parishioners, Chittenden said. The congregation has a little more than 100 families and regularly averages about 50 parishioners for Sunday services.
“I think it means a huge amount because it’s a real morale boost, I think,” Chittenden said of the project. “This church has been through a lot of ups and downs during its lifetime and, in fact, back in the 1890s it was shuttered for a while and back in the 1930s it was shuttered.”
The upgrade of the organ is expected to cost close to $250,000, he said. The organ campaign has already raised between $160,000 and $170,000. The interior renovation is anticipated to cost a similar amount. Chittenden said St. Stephen’s received an initial $50,000 grant from the Bedell Trust, and donations have been coming in.
“It ends up being this major, major interior renovation, but it’ll service a couple of generations,” Chittenden said.
Despite the expense, the effort has been worth it. Chittenden said the church, which is located in the hamlet’s historic district, has been synonymous with Armonk’s development. Many of the first subdivisions and oldest houses in the immediate area were completed by St. Stephen’s congregants.
But don’t expect the church to lose its old-fashioned charm.
“We’re a small country church and I think we’ll always be a small country church and that’s, in a sense, part of its attractiveness and charm,” Chittenden said. “It means that everyone knows everyone else. So there is a real family here.”