The bell tower of the landmark Norwalk United Methodist Church is leaning into the building, but the congregation hopes to raise money to save it.
By David Gurliacci
It isn’t often that a church becomes inspired by a city redevelopment agency, but Tisha Jermin, pastor of the Norwalk United Methodist Church on West Avenue used just that word—”inspired”—to describe what happened.
“Our tower is falling,” she said, although it’s not in danger of collapsing anytime soon. The structural support inside the tower keeps it sturdy enough to prevent it from crashing into the church, but anyone looking up from Mott Avenue can see a pronounced tilt to the city’s own leaning tower.
“We were trying to make the decision about whether to take it down or repair it,” Jermin said.
Enter the Norwalk Redevelopment Agency. When the Wall Street Historic District was created, the RDA helped identify grants that a nonprofit organization such as the church might apply for in order to preserve its property.
The redevelopment agency also helped the church with an engineering study of the structure to see whether it could be repaired. The engineers found it can be fixed.
“The fact that someone cared enough about the building inspired us to keep it,” Jermin said. “We plan to fix it. How it’s going to get done, we don’t know.”
Financing the project remains a problem, she said in an interview after a ceremony in which the church received the first plaque to be put up for the Wall Street Historic District. The church has only about 175 members, with 75 to 80 regularly worshipping on Sunday, and much of the congregation is elderly, she said. But she has hope.
“Through the redeveopment authority we found a number of grants,” Jermin said. Those are matching grants, she said, so the church will still need to find money for the project. “We plan to stay here for a long time, and do great things for God and for the community.”
Building on the past
The Norwalk United Methodist Church is no stranger to structural problems. The church was one of the first major edifices constructed after an 1858 fire swept through the Wall Street area, taking away most of the buildings, according to Deborah Ray and Gloria Stewart’s book, “Norwalk: being an historical account of that Connecticut Town.”
(The building has “some Gothic traits and a few Italianate features, added to a combined Federal and Greek Revival design, and probably represented the compromises of a large building committee,” Ray and Stewart wrote.)
In about 1860, just as the new church was nearly finished, a wind storm came and the building collapsed, said Richard Booth.
Booth, who is both a member of the church and a former president of the Norwalk Historical Society, said the congregation was made up mostly of farmers and modest business owners who had put much of their money into building the original church.
“They didn’t know what to do” after the collapse, he said. But then word got out in the Norwalk community, “and the community sent in donations, and the support from the community was enough to rebuild the church.”
And the building at the corner of West and Mott avenues has been standing there ever since, he said.
In any event, Jermin said, the ultimate fate of the building is in the hands of a higher authority.
“We’re going to see what God does in the next phase,” she said, adding that the church members will do their part in whatever future He determines.
- Historic Landmark or Place of Worship? (barefootpreachr.org)
- Rural churches a unique start for young clergy – UMC.org (barefootpreachr.org)
- First Methodist closing its doors (barefootpreachr.org)