Inside of iconic Sewickley church to undergo renovation

| Wednesday, Dec. 25, 2013, 9:01 p.m.

It has been more than 100 years since the sanctuary at Sewickley United Methodist Church has been remodeled, and the congregation — hoping to have help from the community — is planning to change that.

The $610,000 project will begin Dec. 30 and take 12 to 14 weeks to complete, said Hurst Bartley, chairman of the church's Building of Faith committee.

The renovation includes a rebuild of the church's Moller pipe organ, installed in 1909.

The sanctuary was built in 1886.

“This will be the largest renovation our church has seen in its 150-plus history,” said church member Sandra Lane of Sewickley.

The project has been in the planning stages for two years, Bartley said.

About $400,000 will come out of the church budget for the project, he said.

The 369 members of the congregation have been asked to donate $200,000 to the project over the next five years. So far, $170,000 has been pledged. Church officials also are looking to the community for other donations.

“SUMC is considered by many to be an integral landmark in the Village,” Lane said.

Bartley agreed.

“Our church has existed on the corner of Broad and Thorn (streets) since Sewickley's inception,” he said. “Thorn Street is named after Rev. Charles Thorn — one of our first ministers.”

The earliest meetings of the congregation date back to the early 1800s, when people were meeting in their homes for worship and the area was a frontier, Bartley said.

The congregation began to meet in the 1839 at the same site where the current church sits but in a different building.

The existing church was dedicated in 1885.

The community came together in the 1990s to help fund a capital project to improve the clock tower, a Village landmark at the church.

“It is fair to say that the people of Sewickley — whether they are members of our church or not — have an attachment to our church, and we are actively seeking their support,” Bartley said.

Another important part of the church is the pipe organ, made possible by a donation from Pittsburgh industrialist and philanthropist Andrew Carnegie. The M.P. Moller Organ Co. manufactured the instrument.

“The ‘Carnegie pipes' still stand to this day; however, the organ is in need of a major rebuild,” Bartley said.

The working parts of a pipe organ last about 40 years, and the last rebuild occurred in 1963, Bartley said.

The sanctuary, which has not undergone a major remodeling since 1910 and still houses the original 1885 chancel platform, also needs an update, Bartley said.

“Styles of worship, technology and accessibility requirements have changed in the last 100 years and congregations have become increasingly sophisticated in their needs and expectations,” he said.

While the sanctuary is being remodeled, services will be held in the Simpson Room — the church's fellowship hall.

Included in the project are expanding and refinishing the chancel platform; removing the inclined floor of the nave; removing the pews for repair and reconfiguration to add more space; eliminating stairwells built into the entrances when the floor was raised to help those with poor mobility; improving lighting; adding air conditioning; incorporating a permanent control booth for audiovisual purposes to blend into the room's architecture; installing new flooring; and painting the walls.

Joanne Barron is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-324-1406 or

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