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Unitarians to Celebrate 150th Anniversary: Steeplejacks Apply Finishing Touches


 By Carla Occaso

If you’ve gone up Main Street in Montpelier recently, you’ve likely noticed towering scaffolds around the Unitarian Church. On Tuesdays through Fridays, you most likely would have seen workers from Websterville’s Southgate Steeplejacks dangling from rigging anchored at the apex of the spire. So what’s going on?

The steeplejacks have been painting the belfry and staining the spire’s cedar shingles for several weeks—putting the finishing touches on a project that began a couple of years ago.

Since the 1920s, the church had always been painted all white. But in 2012 a committee chose three color schemes for the congregation to vote on. The first choice was to keep it all white, the second to paint it a combination of white and a medium sage color. As a third alternative, the congregation was offered a combination of white and a darker gray. The vote was held and change won out: The congregation voted three to one for the white-and-sage option. The lower facade of the building, up to the top of the door, was completed first, in 2012. This summer, the work progressed to upper reaches of the structure, and the steeplejacks took over.

Peter Thoms, the church’s historian, expressed full confidence in the spidermen, perched high above Main Street and the occasional picture-snapping onlooker. “To put it mildly, he’s a legend when it comes to working on steeples,” Thoms said of Southgate owner Jay Southgate, in an September 7 telephone interview with The Bridge.

And it’s fitting that the paint job is finally being finished, Thoms continued, because “the church is getting ready for a celebration.” Exactly 150 years ago, on December 13, 1864, a group of people calling themselves the Church of the Messiah decided to build a place of worship in Montpelier. “They spent the next 13 months building the meeting house,” Thoms said, and the first meeting took place January 25, 1866. In 1979 the congregants stopped calling themselves the Church of the Messiah and started calling themselves the Unitarian Church of Montpelier. Today, at a century and half, the church is the oldest house of worship still standing in the city, Thoms said.

In December a special planning committee will kick off the sesquicentennial festivities, which are scheduled to run through January 2016.