Renovations promise to transform Morristown’s Presbyterian Church into top performance venue

The Presbyterian Church in Morristown has added pretty signs and dramatic lighting outside its historic structures. Now, the interiors are primed for spectacular renovations that should make the church a premiere musical and cultural destination.

A $3.5 million capital campaign launched in October has received a stunning response, raising more than $3.1 million in pledges before Christmas.

Rendering of music rehearsal room planned for attic of the Presbyterian Parish House in Morristown.

Rendering of music rehearsal room planned for attic of the Presbyterian Parish House in Morristown.

Extensive improvements are planned for both of the church’s locations: The Sanctuary fronting the Morristown Green, and the Parish House on South Street.

This work is possible because the congregation finally has made peace with the idea that the church actually is a campus, said Pastor David Smazik. 

“We really do have a campus in Morristown, and that’s okay,” he said. “With all the new activity on South Street, it’s a good thing to be here. That’s opened the way to think of major renovations here.”

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The moves are intended to make the church a viable place of worship for decades to come, added the Pastor, who assumed leadership of the 1,000-member church in 2010.

“It’s been a long time since we’ve taken some steps forward,” he said, explaining the campaign’s “Our Turn” theme.

The Sanctuary’s chancel– the altar area that houses a massive 4,000-pipe Austin organ–will be extended forward, to accommodate orchestras and larger choral groups, said Matt Webb, the music director.

FROM TWO CHURCHES, ONE CONGREGATION

The Presbyterian Church on the Green traces its roots to 1733.  During the Revolutionary War, the church served as a hospital for soldiers infected with smallpox. General George Washington also took communion at the church orchard. In 1816, the church deeded the Morristown Green to the Trustees of the Green, who oversee the town square to this day.  When divisions arose within the congregation, a faction left in 1840 to start the South Street Presbyterian Church and what is now the Parish House.  The two congregations reunited in 1925.

 

And the Parish House will get an elevator to its second-floor gymnasium, which will enable the gym’s use for events. An unused stage in the gymnasium will make way for rest rooms, and a cavernous adjoining attic area now used for storage will be transformed into a music rehearsal room capable of accommodating large ensembles.

Downstairs, Sheffield Hall will get a lowered ceiling and new lighting and flooring that will make it more desirable for dinners and special occasions. Half-century-old appliances in the adjacent kitchen will be replaced, and that facility will be modernized.

Pastor David Smazik outside the Presbyterian Parish House, which is poised for major renovations in Morristown. Photo by Kevin Coughlin

Pastor David Smazik outside the Presbyterian Parish House, which is poised for major renovations in Morristown. Photo by Kevin Coughlin

Magnificent stained-glass windows, now blocked by interior walls, will once more bathe the inside of the Parish House with multicolored sunlight.

Work is expected to start this summer, in the kitchen. The design work is by the historic preservation architectural firm of Connolly and Hickey.

Central to the effort is a Green Faith initiative, a certification process that will help the church make sure its renovations conserve energy and are environmentally friendly. The Episcopal Church of the Redeemer on South Street has set an example, Pastor Smazik said.

“We’re becoming more conscious of our stewardship of the environment,” he said.

When the upgrades are completed, the Pastor added, he hopes that the town can enjoy more events at both locations.

He envisions synergies with the Mayo Performing Arts Center across the street from the Parish House, and a more prominent role with the annual First Night celebration by Morris Arts.

While many mainline churches have struggled to maintain membership levels, the Presbyterian Church in Morristown is fortunate, the Pastor said.

The church is popular with young families thanks in part to a nursery school– celebrating its 50th anniversary this year–and a thriving music program under Music Director Matt Webb and children’s Music Director Julie Ramseyer. Kathy Henckler runs the nursery school and Alexandra Meade is in charge of children’s education.

“We feel we’re blessed with really good energy in this church,” Pastor Smazik said.

 

 

 

 



Comments

  1. David Steketee says:

    While it’s great these institutions have raised a considerable amount of money for renovations, it should be noted that each of the institutions mentioned also received public funds for exterior maintenance under the guise of ‘historic preservation’.

    Over the past five years the following have been allocated from the Morris County Historic Preservation Trust to these institutions:
    Presbyterian Church – Morristown – $859,000
    Church of the Redeemer – $87,000
    Church of the Redeemer Parish House – $702,000

    The use of public funds for exterior renovations allowed the churches to focus their funds on interior renovations. In my opinion, the use of public funds to pay for maintenance at private religious institutions should end.

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