ABBEVILLE — Christmas came early to Abbeville.
Restoration of Trinity Episcopal Church got a $25,000 jumpstart. The donation, which was received last week, will enable to work to proceed on Phase II, the restoration of the church’s 125-foot steeple, said Mike Bedenbaugh, president and CEO of Preservation South Carolina, the organization overseeing the church’s renewal.
Funding for Phase II is still $5,000 short of the $710,000 goal, but the donation from Hughes Development Corp. in Greenville will permit work on the steeple to start this month, he said.
Rotted timber in the spire will be removed before Christmas, Bedenbaugh said. After Christmas, a new foundation for the spire will be installed. Then the spire will be lifted to replace the cribbing that the steeple sits on.
Then the spire will be lowered onto new foundation timbers. Bedenbaugh said he hopes work can be done in January. Once done, scaffolding will be built around the steeple for exterior work.
Depending on the weather, work could be done by the end of March, he said, adding that he hopes work on the spire will be finished before Easter Sunday on April 4.
Bedenbaugh said the church will continue to be open. That is good news for the congregation, which has scheduled a midnight mass for 11 p.m. Dec. 24, said Louis Ashley, a senior warden with the church.
It will be the first midnight mass at Trinity since 2016, he said. The service will be open to the community.
Trinity also has had concerts and services, such as the blessing of animals, Ashley said. Mass participants have included people from all faiths.
The ability to have the church open, having events and being an active part of the community will help fundraise and provide revenue over the long term, so the church will be maintained, said Mike Clary, a member of Friends of Trinity.
Friends of Trinity is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization tasked with preserving the church. Clary said people don’t have to be Episcopalians to be part of Friends. Members can be anyone who cares about what the church means to Abbeville.
That meaning goes beyond religious services. Bedenbaugh said Methodists and Catholics have visited Trinity saying, “We wanted to know what was happening to our church.”
Trinity should be seen as a community church, he said. People should recognize the church’s importance to the city and county.
“These places cannot be saved just by appealing to people’s affection for bricks and mortar, Bedenbaugh said. “These places, we are saving for the stories they tell. That’s what makes them worth saving.”
Some of those stories were told to visitors from Anderson County who were in town Friday morning when Trinity was open for workers to continue renovation. Bedenbaugh gave a brief tour, showing off the stained glass windows and components for the pipe organ, and providing information on the church’s history.
Preservation South Carolina is two years into a five-year lease of Trinity, he said. A lot of work is to be done, and a lot has been done that people thought was impossible.
Once work on the steeple is complete, work on the stucco (Phase III) will be next, Bedenbaugh said.
In the 1970s, Portland Cement was used to cover all the stucco. That is not a good thing to do with a historical structure as the cement is falling off and is taking the stucco, mortar and handmade bricks with it, he said.
The exterior stucco is the biggest challenge. Bedenbaugh said work will take getting all of the money, $1.2 million, upfront because it is more cost-efficient to do the work all at once.
Since the church reopened, at least one wedding has been conducted at Trinity. Having events such as weddings or concerts at the church is the goal, he said.
“Once we get more people in here, the better,” Bedenbaugh said.
People interested in reserving the church for events can contact Preservation South Carolina at PreserveSC.org or mail it at P.O. Box 506, Prosperity SC 29127.
“As members of the community, it’s a great thing for Abbeville to have the church back open,” Clary said. “We’re all very grateful to Mike and Preservation South Carolina and all the hard work they’ve put into making this happen.”