'Things are looking up' at Mascoutah church

News-DemocratJuly 28, 2013 

The church sign at Bethel United Methodist Church in Mascoutah promises "Things are looking up -- come worship with us."

No matter your view on religion, people definitely are looking up at the old church on the corner of Main and First streets.

You can't help but stare when you see the ropes stretching from the lawn to the tall steeple. Then you see the men hanging up there, sometimes swinging from one spot to another on their safety ropes.

The men work for Inspired Heights, a Rockford company that specializes in repairing churches.

They are removing rotted wood from the steeple and repairing whatever has gone wrong up there in the years the steeple has stood.

Since 1863, when the original part of the church was built, the steeple has been painted and patched to stand against the constant assault of the elements. But time has taken its toll.

"We're removing pieces from the steeple, stuff that got added as patches and wood that is deteriorating," said Kyle Murkve, one of a crew of college students working for the company for the summer.

The company has been there for about four weeks and anticipates more than another month of repair on the steeple and sanctuary, inside and out.

The men also were repairing cracks in the stone walls of the church which were added to the original building in 1953.

Murkve is one of several students who work for the company, which was founded by Tony Stratton, a third-generation steeplejack. Stratton teaches his people how to renovate church property in a mentorship program.

He takes the rehab work seriously, Murkve said.

"It's an act of worship for him," he said. "It's about fixing things and doing important work. We have morning Bible studies as well."

The Rev. Jason Woolever said Stratton was a Godsend for them when it came to fixing the steeple.

"This is a colossal task that has been hanging over the heads of the church's parishioners for a decade," Woolever said. "With the earlier bids, it would have been impossible to do. Tony (Stratton) made recommendations that saved us a lot of money."

The project will cost about $155,000.

The church was organized by a traveling minister, the Rev. J.M. Hartman, in 1841. In 1863, the current church building was erected. It was one-story with a tall steeple.

Various improvements had been made through the years. The basement was added in 1920. Cast stone was added to the outside of the building in 1953.

The church was founded as German Methodist. When the German language came into disfavor during World War I, the church minutes were changed to English and worship services in English were added.

But the church continued to hold some services in German until 1939 when German really came into disfavor.

Have a column idea? Call Wally at 239-2506 or 800-642-3878; or email: wspiers@bnd.com

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