Longport church rises from the ashes

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Church supporters Richard Cohen, Anne Peterson Martin and Robert P. Subrianni are anxious to see the restoration projected at Church of the Redeemer fully completed. Church supporters Richard Cohen, Anne Peterson Martin and Robert P. Subrianni are anxious to see the restoration projected at Church of the Redeemer fully completed. LONGPORT – The historic restoration at the Episcopal Church of the Redeemer is nearly completed. The congregation will hold its last service of the summer season at 10 a.m. on Sunday, Aug. 31.

The church, which was a summertime place of worship for wealthy Philadelphia families since 1908, burned down to the sand beneath it during the freakish derecho storm on June 30, 2012.

The sanctuary at Church of the Redeemer has been painstakingly restored to its original design. The sanctuary at Church of the Redeemer has been painstakingly restored to its original design. “An electric pole fell on the church tower and it burned to the ground. It was primarily a wood building, so it burned quickly,” Longport historian Michael Cohen said.

Cohen was instrumental in getting the church on the National Historic Register of Historic Places in October 2005. Efforts are under way to get it deemed an historic landmark after it is rebuilt, according to the original architectural drawings.

The sanctuary after the fire that consumed Church of the Redeemer in Longport. The sanctuary after the fire that consumed Church of the Redeemer in Longport. “The church has been painstakingly restored according to the 1908 blueprints on file at the Longport Historical Society,” Cohen said. “Even the stained glass windows are being made by the original manufacturer, Willet Houser Architectural Glass,” he said. “When the windows go in, people will think they are in the original church.”

Each of the seven windows depict different scenes of Jesus Christ overlooking his flock. The main windows show Christ with sea life all around. The original windows were dedicated on the day Hitler invaded Poland, Sept. 1, 1939, said Cohen, the president of the Longport Historical Society.

The big rose window depicts the Sermon on the Mount and will be lit at night. The smaller windows tell stories from the Gospel according to Matthew, and 12 little windows depict Jesus’ 12 apostles.

The Redeemer, the first church in the small beach hamlet, was founded in 1882 by Quakers, but the church wasn’t built until 1908 when a wealthy landowner, Joseph P. Remington, donated the land and money to build the church.

According to Cohen, the original settlers held services at the old borough hall or in houses belonging to members of the congregation, where traditional Quaker meetings are held in silence.

However, when Remington built the church so his daughter could sing and play the piano, all the Quakers became Protestants. Today, the church is Protestant Episcopal, but all faiths are welcome, said Robert P. Subranni, vice chairman of the board of trustees.

“This is a house of prayer for all peoples,” Subranni said.

With the project nearly completed and the new stained glass windows ready for installation, the congregation held its first service in the Sloan Chapel, which will be available to the community for special events. The chapel portion boasts vaulted ceilings, wood paneling throughout and steel I-beams with yellow pine wood infill.

Director of Restoration, general contractor Dan Mittelman of Shore Building of Northfieldsaid the new church was designed to match the original woodwork finishes and still comply with today’s engineering standards.

The Travertine marble tile floors were an upgrade made possible by Subrianni, Mittelman said.

Subrianni’s brother, Thomas J. Subranni, who serves as the chairman of the board of trustees, dealt with the insurance company, while Mittelman tended to every detail of the restoration.

“It takes time because we are working from old photographs,” Mittelman said.

The woodwork in the sanctuary was recreated down to the last detailed turning using dark stained Douglas fir that matches the paneling.

Subranni said the congregation is accepting donations to replace the bronze bells in the bell tower, which will be manufactured in France by the historic Paccard Bell Foundry. Phillipe Paccard recently visited the church to provide the congregation with information about the wonderful sound that emanates from bronze bells.

Midland Pipe Organ Service of North Carolina will be installing the new 12-rank pipe organ starting next week, and the labyrinth in the church courtyard, which attracts people seeking meditation from all over South Jersey, will be repainted.

Another special aspect of the church is that it was a beacon for those who would sail the sea and those who live off-shore. A new, blue mariner’s light will be installed in the bell tower.

“We could not reproduce the purple-blue of the old light, but this light will be blue and seen from as far away as three miles,” Cohen said.

The congregation is planning a dedication ceremony on July 12, 2015, but summer services will be held twice on Sundays, starting on Father’s Day.

Trustee Anne Peterson Martin, who lived at the end of the block as a child, but now lives several blocks away, said her parents were always involved in the church as she was growing up.

“I swim down here every day, and the day after the church burned, I felt completely lost. Our minister said it was like a death in the family,” Martin said. “After the fire, church was held in a tent, with the charred remains behind us. We were still in shock, and now it is wonderful to be back in this holy space. We had this thing, then it was gone, now it’s back again, and it is wonderful.”

 


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