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Towson United Methodist set to unveil restored steeple

Towson Times
Towson church getting ready to rededicate its once-leaking and now restored steeple

It cost $719,000 to build Towson United Methodist Church, which opened in 1958.

Fifty-three years later, it cost more than $700,000 to restore the church's leaking steeple, a Towson landmark that can be seen from Interstate 695.

"It looks exactly as it did (more than) 50 years ago, only cleaner," said office and business manager Kim Ayres.

"And drier," said longtime parishioner Don McWilliams, 83, chuckling. He still remembers climbing up there from inside on a built-in ladder in the mid-1980s to assess water damage.

"It was scary," he said.

The rehabilitation of the steeple, a beacon at Exit 27B of the Beltway, will be celebrated at a rededication ceremony and reception Sunday, May 17, at 11:30 a.m., in the fellowship hall of the church at 501 Hampton Lane.

"It carries meaning for many, and especially for those who pass by it every day," the church's pastor, the Rev. Roderick Miller, said in an invitation to the community. Miller said it took 18 months and cost more than $700,000 to reconstruct the steeple, which was damaged by a 2011 earthquake and by Superstorm Sandy in 2012.

The steeple, which includes a cupola, is 235 feet from its base to the top of its 75-foot porcelain spire topped by a cross and spotlights. The work by American Restoration Service and the engineering firm Simpson, Gumpertz & Heger, both based in the Washington area, included repointing, cleaning and sealing and took 18 months, 5,000 square feet of scaffolding and about 8,000 man hours, Ayres said.

"I was told it was 5 feet short of needing a red light for planes," Ayres said.

The steeple is the pride and joy of the staff and longtime parishioners of the mission-oriented, 1,000-member church, which operates a daycare center and a monthly emergency food pantry, donates to a soup kitchen in the area and sponsors meetings of Alcoholics, Gamblers and Narcotics Anonymous groups at the church.

Some of its members have helped to build Habitat for Humanity houses, and some went to West Baltimore to deliver food to victims of last week's riots and looting stemming from Freddie Gray's death while in police custody.

For many at Towson United Methodist, the steeple symbolizes the church's mission.

"I think a beacon of hope for the community," said Ayres, who has worked for the church for 10 years. 'It says, 'Here we are. We're here for you.'"

"It inspires me every time I see it," McWilliams said.

"It means a lot to me," said Bill Snyder, who was married in the church, served on the building committee and remembers it being built at the same time as blasting for Beltway construction, which left a crack in the living room of his house nearby. "I feel it's my church," said Snyder, 87.

Sally Ransom Knecht, 84, feels a deep personal and spiritual connection to the church. From 1951-65, her husband, the Rev. Lewis Ransom, was pastor of the church, which was the product of a merger between two previous United Methodist churches.

Rev. Ransom spearheaded construction of the church during its heyday, when it boasted 1,800 members, and he tied a white handkerchief to the cross as it was being hoisted.

"It flew until it disintegrated," Knecht said.

Rev. Ransom was robbed and shot to death in downtown Baltimore in 1987 while returning to his car after visiting patients at a hospital. His memorial service drew 1,000 mourners to the church, which has a capacity of 750, and snarled traffic so badly that, "Some people never got off the Beltway," recalled Knecht, who has since remarried.

Knecht, who serves as the church's archivist, can see the spire illuminated at night from her living room window at the Edenwald retirement community. For her, the reconstruction of the steeple is "a celebration of faith," she said — and a continuing nod to her late husband's work.

"This was his house and finest hour," she said. "He would enjoy it."

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