We are trying to keep
 a roof over our heads

We should all have an abiding affection for our church roof—and not just because it keeps out the rain and snow. Back in the early 90s, just before construction got under way, there was some question as to whether the county planning people would permit us to have a roof at all.

It happened like this: One day—quite out of the blue—I received a rather odd telephone call from a lady in the county planning department.

‘You are not getting a permit. Your church has got too much roof!’ she snapped.

‘I’d be happy to get rid of some of it,’ I told her. ‘It would save us a lot of money. The only problem is we need all that roof to keep the rain out.’

‘Don’t get fresh with me, young man!’ she said, ‘You know exactly what I mean.’

Frankly, I didn’t have the faintest idea of what she was driving at. But, after much to-ing and fro-ing, it turned out that she wanted us to install eight dormer windows in the roof, four a side, which, at $15,000 per dormer, would have tacked $120,000 on to the construction bill.

‘That will break it up a bit,’ she declared.

I was flabbergasted at what seemed to me to be a fit of pure capriciousness. But nothing I had to say would change her mind. She wanted dormers no matter the cost, and dormers she was determined to have.

weathercockIt took the quick thinking and not inconsiderable diplomatic skills of Rector’s Warden Jim Peters and vestryman Bill Downey to solve the problem. They suggested making a castellated pattern in shingles along the peak of the roof. Honour was satisfied, and construction proceeded.

In any event, we recently received a letter from our insurers, informing us that, as our roof was now 20 years old, they would not provide us with a new roof in case of damage. They would simply replace the damaged portion.

It was a timely reminder to the vestry that we should be making provision to replace ultimately both the roof on the church and the parish hall.

The good news is that the roofs are generally still in reasonable shape. The only ones in urgent need of attention are the roofs on the tower and over the Cadwalader room at the front of the church. The bad news is that structural problems of the church tower need to be dealt with immediately.

Twenty-five years of wind, rain, sleet, and snow have rotted the supports of the heat pump installed in the tower, which heats and air-conditions the sanctuary. To repair it, we shall have to take off the sundial panels and replace much of the internal and external fabric of the top of the tower.

To provide additional protection for the heat pump and its supports, the vestry has decided to add a shallow peaked roof to the tower, which will actually give it a more finished appearance. The cost of the project will be a relatively modest $16,500 or so.

We can replace the other roofs at a rather more relaxed pace, although the roof over the Cadwalader Room will need attention in next few months. The church roof will be next, to be followed sometime later by the roof of the parish hall and library.

The overall cost of these will be in the region of $150,000. Thus, we are launching a roof replacement fund, with the goal of raising about $170,000. The treasurer tells me that your generosity would be very much appreciated.

As we approach the end of the year, gifts of shares might well not only benefit the church, but also provide you with a useful year-end tax write off. Please send your gifts to the treasurer, noting that they are intended for the Roof Replacement Fund.

The repairs to the tower will enable us to add finishing touches to the church that have been on hold for the best part of 25 years—the installation of a cross and a weathercock.

In England, since the very beginning of the Middle Ages, the steeples of most parish churches have traditionally been crowned with a weathercock—a weather vane in the shape of a rooster that revolves to show the point of the compass from which the wind is blowing: north, south, east, or west.

Which Archbishop of Canterbury ordered their installation is a matter for debate. The likely candidates include Æthelred (AD 870–888); Plegemund (AD 890–923); Æðelhelm (AD 923–926); or Oda (AD 941–958). Some folks, however, favour a later a date, attributing the act to St Dunstan (AD 941–958).

But whoever actually did the deed, suffice it to say, it has been a tradition for well over 1,000 years.

One thing that can be said for certain is that St Gregory the Great, who was the Pope from AD 540 to AD 604, declared that the cock (rooster) ‘was the most suitable emblem of Christianity’, being ‘the emblem of St Peter’. Some say that, as a result, the cock began gradually to be used as a weather vane on church steeples.

Records show that in the 9th century, Pope Nicholas I ordered the figure of a cockerel to be placed on every church steeple. He seems to have taken the lead from Pope Leo IV (Nicholas’s predecessor by two), who had one put up on the Old St Peter’s Basilica in Rome even before Nicholas I was Pope.

Pope Nicholas’s purpose in ordering the cockerel to be placed on church steeples was to remind the clergy and people of Jesus’ prophesy of St Peter’s betrayal—that Peter would betray him three times before the cock crowed on the morning after the Last Supper. It is also claimed it is an emblem of the vigilance of the clergy calling the people to prayer.

An early illustration of its use in England is found in the Bayeux Tapestry, which was stitched in the 1070s to commemorate the Norman conquest of the country by William, Duke of Normandy. The tapestry, now exhibited at Musée de la Tapisserie de Bayeux in Bayeux, Normandy, shows a man installing a cock on Westminster Abbey.

But, no matter who ordered cockerels to be installed on steeples, English churchgoers didn’t take it lying down. They turned it into something that is particularly useful on a small and windy island, commonly known in England as a weathercock, whether it has a cockerel on it or not.

In keeping with another ancient Anglican tradition, we shall be placing a Celtic Cross on the western peak of the church roof—the highest point of the building. What with that and the two large crosses at the eastern end of the building, nobody will be able to mistake St Stephen’s for anything other than a Christian church. GPH✠

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