Reunited — and it looks so good

The rebuilt steeple of First Parish church was carefully hoisted back into place this morning. Photo by Bill Forry

The steeple of the First Parish Church was returned to its proper spot atop the bell tower of the Dorchester landmark this morning. The steeple was removed in November 2006 and has sat on a vacant lot across the street from the church ever since. The structure underwent a complete restoration in recent months at the hands of expert restoration carpentry students from the North Bennet School— which has played a critical role in the ongoing restoration of the entire historic church.

Before the steeple's lift-off, Rev. Arthur Lavoie delivered a memorable invocation from the elevated platform of a bucket truck, which hoisted him some 30 feet above a crowd of more than 150 people who gathered along Parish Street to watch the spectacle unfold. Rev. Lavoie read from Psalm 90— the same prayer read 116 years before when the church building was dedicated. A church has stood atop Meetinghouse Hill since 1690 and the congregation itself dates back to the original settlement of Dorchester in 1630.

Rev. Art Lavoie: The First Parish minister with items he placed inside a time capsule located near the top of the steeple. Photo by Bill ForryRev. Art Lavoie: The First Parish minister with items he placed inside a time capsule located near the top of the steeple. Photo by Bill Forry"We are grateful to our forebears whose silver made this [restoration] possible," said Lavoie, referring to the colonial-era silver serving ware collection that was sold at auction to help pay for the church's restoration. "May we always know that this building is only a tool to carry on the mission of this church since 1630: to serve the people of Dorchester."

Lavoie said that some 7,000 hours of work went into the job of rebuilding the two sections of the steeple that were re-attached to the bell tower today. It would not have been possible, he stressed, without the donated labor of the carpentry students and their instructors who worked diligently throughout the first half of 2013 to get the job done.

"They saved us hundreds of thousands of dollars," said Lavoie. "We would not have been able to do this without the North Bennet School."

There is more work to be done in the days ahead. Now that the steeple has been secured into place with giant bolts, workers will replace windows in the lantern section, which will eventually be lit at night. Today's job was executed by workers from Murphy's Specialties, which has been working at the First Parish site off-and-on for the last seven years. A crane and other equipment from the Marr Companies and Bosco Crane were used to hoist the structure into place.

Lift-off of the new First Parish steeple: Photo by Chris LovettLift-off of the new First Parish steeple: Photo by Chris Lovett

Before "lift-off", Lavoie was lifted in the bucket truck to a gold ball just below the steeple's weathervane. The ball serves as a small "time capsule"— which will now house several items that Lavoie placed inside this morning. The items included letters from Mayor Thomas M. Menino and First Parish Church congregation chairman Tom Cunningham, along with a list of all of the First Parish ministers since 1630 and a current list of members. Lavoie also placed a gold coin emblazoned with the seal of Dorchester into the capsule, which due to its size and vulnerability to weather conditions was a limited vessel. Lavoie said that a second time capsule will be installed elsewhere in the steeple at a future date.

The reunion of steeple and church is a huge milestone and serves as a high-profile triumph for the small Unitarian Universalist congregation which meets inside. However, as Lavoie noted, it is hardly the end of the restoration job, which goes on at a swift pace this summer. Scaffolding still surrounds much of the building- evidence of painting and woodwork that is scheduled to continue through the course of this year. The parish also intends to add an addition to the rear of the building in a subsequent phase of the project.