By Marion Filler
Six years of planning and renovating culminated in a weekend of celebration at Presbyterian Church in Morristown, which christened its refurbished Sanctuary with an open house and special worship service.
The congregation raised $1.8 million for the improvements, said Pastor David Smazik. The results are better acoustics–creating a first-rate concert venue–and structural enhancements for safety and aesthetics.
They were part of a $5 million capital project that started with planning in 2013, followed by restoration of the Parish House on South Street that houses church offices, a nursery school, gymnasium, and social hall.
Worship services moved there when work began in the Sanctuary in 2017.
It included re-plastering throughout the building, expanding the chancel in front, and adding new carpeting and cushions. But the largest share of funds went toward restoring 576 decorative plaster rosettes that cover the spectacular vaulted ceiling in the main body of the Sanctuary.
“We first started restoring the domes on the side and then the rosettes on the ceiling. They were starting to fail. Every one was stabilized individually, if you can believe it,” said Smazik.
Reconfiguration of the new chancel is more than just cosmetic. The removal of choir stalls allows for an expanded performance area to accommodate the many musical events for which the Church is recognized.
The new side walls “are like big closets,” said Smazik, explaining how all the chairs and pedestals can be stored easily to make room for whatever is happening on stage.
“Between now and the end of the year, I think there are five different groups coming here,” he said.
Kevin Hubbard, programming director for the church, confirmed that NPR is coming in November to interview and record New Jersey artists for From the Top, a nationwide program to showcase young classical musicians.
Appearances by the New Jersey Youth Chorus and a Christmas show by Imperial Brass also are in the works for the 650-seat Sanctuary.
“We can’t compete with Mayo, they do a different kind of thing,” said Hubbard, referring to Morristown’s 1,300-seat Mayo Performing Arts Center. “But among churches, this is a pretty great space.”
There have always been good acoustics in the Sanctuary, but Music Director Matthew Webb said they are even better now.
“One of the biggest changes is the addition of more wood and hard surfaces,” Webb said.
Pointing to the two wood paneled closets flanking the chancel, he said, “These two walls are new, and there was carpet on this stage. Getting rid of that and adding all of this wood created a lot more reverberance to a space that was already pretty terrific.
“We moved back in March, and we had a big concert at the end of April with singers and an orchestra. That was our first big test run and it went really well, the acoustics were great and we had an audience of 500 people.”
An open house was held on Saturday, and Sunday morning’s worship service was scheduled to include a children’s parade and a specially commissioned piece of music to commemorate the renovations.