Sacred Sites Program

Bedford Park Congregational Church - A Sacred Sites Success Story

Bedford Park Congregational Church - A Sacred Sites Success Story
Bedford Park Congregational Church - A Sacred Sites Success Story
-Before
Bedford Park Congregational Church - A Sacred Sites Success Story
Bedford Park Congregational Church - A Sacred Sites Success Story
-Before
Bedford Park Congregational Church - A Sacred Sites Success Story
Bedford Park Congregational Church - A Sacred Sites Success Story
-After
Bedford Park Congregational Church - A Sacred Sites Success Story
Bedford Park Congregational Church - A Sacred Sites Success Story
-After
Bedford Park Congregational Church - A Sacred Sites Success Story
Bedford Park Congregational Church - A Sacred Sites Success Story
-Rededication Group
Bedford Park Congregational Church - A Sacred Sites Success Story
Bedford Park Congregational Church - A Sacred Sites Success Story
-Rededication Group
Bedford Park Congregational Church - A Sacred Sites Success Story
Bedford Park Congregational Church - A Sacred Sites Success Story
-Rededication Ceremony

Bedford Park Congregational Church, a picturesque “country” church in the northwest Bronx, has completed a transformational restoration project with Conservancy help and energetic fundraising.

The church was organized in 1889 to serve the then-railroad suburb of Bedford Park, and built in 1891-1892. Harlem architect Edgar K. Bourne, the son of the congregation’s founding pastor, designed the eclectic fieldstone and wood shingle-clad church, combining elements of the Shingle, Queen Anne, and Romanesque Revival styles. The building was designated a City landmark in 2000.

The exposed wood truss sanctuary interior is quite intact. However, the church exterior was clad in wavy-textured beige asbestos shingle circa 1950, while portions of the wood shingle tower and dormers were further clad in variegated green asphalt shingle by the 1970’s. Remaining exposed wood trim at windows, porch and soffits was painted a practical but dismal battleship gray.

The church contacted the Conservancy in late 2010 for help with urgently needed roof repairs. In early 2011, Sacred Sites staff visited, bringing roof expert Russel Watsky. He immediately noticed a hole over the organ loft visible only from the rear of the adjacent parish hall. With the help of a $5,000 Conservancy grant, he implemented a temporary repair, while developing a scope and budget for overdue roof and gutter replacement initially projected at about $150,000.

The small congregation shares its facility with several other congregations, hosts AA and scout groups, and had a track record of raising about $10,000 per year with an annual fun fair. But if the Conservancy were to pledge $25,000, how would this 30-member congregation raise the balance? They would need to double their annual operating budget of $100,000 in one year.

In September, 2011, the Conservancy pledged an initial $25,000 challenge grant – which the congregation matched by doubling and tripling the frequency of their fundraising events over the following year with luncheons, cake sales, raffles, a flea market and lawn parties, raising over $40,000. But they were willing to do even more.

Watsky advised that while the scaffolding was in place for the roof and tower work, the congregation should consider restoring the wood shingle siding as well, if the work could be accomplished without greatly increasing the project budget. In May 2012, the Conservancy pledged a second $25,000 challenge grant towards this expanded “Cinderella” scope. The congregation then added a concert and a fundraising dinner to their roster, holding monthly events. They raised an additional $40,000 over the next year. In March 2013, the project went out to bid. For $150,000, the winning bidder, ARM Roofing Inc., a Westchester general contractor, would not only tear off the old roofing and install new architectural grade shingle, copper flashing and gutters, but also remove the cement and asphalt shingle and re-clad facades with new cedar shingle, repair rotted wood soffits and trim, repoint a masonry chimney, and repaint the church in its historic color scheme, a rich brick red for the shingle, with deep forest green trim.

Conservancy staff helped secure Landmarks Commission permits. Construction began in May of 2013 and was completed in October.

Bedford Park Congregational Church dug deeply one more time and was able to repair plaster and repaint the sanctuary in time for a November 2013 rededication and 124th anniversary celebration. Pastoral leaders Rev. Christopher Ponurraj and Mrs. Vatsala Ponnuraj planned and emceed the event. Their son Youngren produced a video slideshow documenting the building’s transformation.

The church honored Russel Watsky, the construction crew and principals, Conservancy staff, trustees and congregation members, former members and friends. Denominational official Rev. Freeman Palmer congratulated the congregation and pledged to work with the Conservancy to relate Bedford Park’s successful renovation story to other UCC churches in the region, as an inspiration to all.