Services illuminated by light streaming through Gothic stained glass windows and accompanied by music from a 700-pipe organ have long been a part of worship at the Bridgehampton Presbyterian Church, meant to lift up the spirits of the congregation every Sunday.
Lately, though, the windows and the organ need a little uplifting of their own.
A committee of volunteers at the church has launched a fundraising campaign to repair the 83-year-old organ and 120-year-old stained glass windows, hoping to ready them for decades of continued use.
“It cost about $5,000 to build this church” almost 350 years ago, Donna Halsey, a member of the committee, said in an interview. “Now we’re trying to raise hundreds of thousands of dollars to fix the windows and the organ. We just hope the community will see the need like we see the need and be interested in helping us restore them.”
The committee has said its priority is repairing the organ because it is used every Sunday. It has outlined repairs to the organ costing in excess of $130,000, which would include fixing an air leak, updating the control console and keyboard, performing some pipe work and replacing about three miles of wiring. Tom White, who serves as the church’s organist and whose tenth great-grandfather, Ebenezer White, was the first pastor there, explained the organ, an Austin Pipe Organ Opus 1850, still has its original electrical wiring.
“It has not had any major work done to it,” Mr. White said. “It’s functioning in that era’s mechanics, and is suffering due to salt in the air and due to age. Instruments that are further inland don’t suffer as much corrosion. The other concern is the wiring. It’s sort of like a house that was wired in the 1920s.”
The church is opting to repair it, rather than replace it, because a new one would cost far more — between $500,000 and $700,000. Mr. White said most organs are built to last if they are maintained properly. He said some in Europe dating back to the 1200s are still operational.
Mr. White said a typical Sunday morning sitting at Bridgehampton Presbyterian’s organ involves avoiding certain “stops,” or sound families consisting of 61 pipes, on the instrument because they have simply ceased functioning. He finds himself working some of the parts extra hard “so they’ll be a little more reliable to get through a service.”
“We also turn it off during the sermons,” he said, “so you can hear the message. Some people think the air conditioner is way off, but it’s actually the organ’s air leak.”
The windows’ repair estimate is far more costly than the organ’s. There are eight windows, approximately 19 feet in height and each featuring a different Christian symbol. With an approximate price tag of up to $50,000 per window, repairs could total as much as $400,000.
The problems plaguing the windows are numerous — rippling and bowing, crumbling lead detailing, rusting bolsters. The windows’ sheer weight has actually begun to pull them down, creating visible cracks where they meet their sills. The west-facing windows are in the worst shape, suffering from heat damage as a result of facing down the afternoon sun for the last 120 years. Protective coverings added over the windows at one point actually did more damage than good, Mr. White said.
Peggy Griffin, another fundraising committee member, said she is looking forward to the windows’ restoration. She recalled how the sun streamed through them on the afternoon of her wedding at the church some years ago.
“You cannot pick out one window that is better than another. They’re just beautiful,” she said.
The fundraising committee has set its sights on raising $1 million for the organ, the windows and other projects. Another item it hopes to tackle soon is modernizing the kitchen in the parlor so its uses can be expanded for church events, community functions and local business partnerships. It is accomplishing its goal through hands-on efforts like a charity estate sale last weekend that raised more than $11,000.
“We don’t always raise a whole lot at each fundraiser, but we just keep plugging along,” Ms. Halsey said, noting the church is also accepting monetary contributions for the restoration projects. Those interesting in donating can send a check made out to “BHPC,” P.O. Box 3038, Bridgehampton NY 11932, with “designated for restoration” written as a memo.
In February, the church itself earned designation as a National Historic Site. Completed in 1843, the current Bridgehampton Presbyterian Church is actually the congregation’s third iteration of a church building. In 2020, the congregation will celebrate its 350th anniversary.
Ms. Halsey said she hopes the congregation unites around the cause of restoring the windows and the organ.
“They’re part of the heart of the congregation and the community,” she said.