Historic chapel arrives in Chapel Hill to start new life

rstradling@newsobserver.comDecember 8, 2012 

— Only a few members of the Episcopal Church of the Advocate were on hand when the truck that carried the old chapel that will be their new home turned off Homestead Road onto their property Saturday morning.

The chapel was early.

The 121-year-old St. Philip’s Episcopal Church left the community of Germanton, north of Winston-Salem, on Nov. 29 and had been parked alongside N.C. 86 three miles north of Hillsborough, awaiting the final leg of the trip into Chapel Hill. The nine-year-old Church of the Advocate has never had a sanctuary of its own, and members had long anticipated this day.

Ivy and Noah Barger and their two children watched the building pass their home in Hillsborough, then drove down to the church’s lot to be there when it arrived. Like many members, the Bargers had seen pictures of the old St. Philip’s Church and followed on the Internet as the building was dismantled and began its move. But they had never seen it in person.

“I’m just floored,” said Ivy Barger, 36. “I think it’s so beautiful.”

St. Philip’s was completed in 1891 in the Carpenter Gothic style popular among Episcopal churches of that era. Even on the road, without its roof and steeple, the building’s vertical clapboards and its tall, narrow windows ending in pointed arches made it recognizable as a church. The steeple, removed in two parts, arrived more than a month ago, and sat on a trailer beside the brick house that will serve as the church’s offices.

St. Philip’s never flourished as its founders had hoped. Membership peaked around the turn of the 20th century, never getting large enough to support its own minister. The congregation disbanded in 1980, and about a year ago leaders of the Episcopal diocese in Raleigh made the building available to the Church of the Advocate.

The decision to move the church surprised residents of Germanton, who considered the white chapel with the red door a landmark and an important part of their community. A campaign to keep St. Philip’s on its historic site failed, leaving hard feelings among many who felt attached to the building.

Church of the Advocate member Barbara Rowan of Chapel Hill met some of them when she went to Germanton to see the building begin its 126-mile journey.

“I told them, ‘I’m so sorry this hurts so much,’” said Rowan, 63. “I thought it was important for them to hear it from us.”

Rowan and her husband, Larry, had the rusty old bell from St. Philip’s sandblasted, primed and painted black. Someone rang it as the building was eased onto the church property.

It will likely be next summer before the Church of the Advocate can hold its first service in the building. Before then, the town will want the building and the site ready for visitors, including a new sewer line, parking, sidewalks, electricity and handicapped access. The timing of that work will depend on the weather and raising $200,000 to pay for it, said Rev. Lisa Fischbeck.

The church hopes to celebrate its 10th anniversary in the sanctuary next September, Fischbeck said.

Members of the church have followed the progress of the St. Philip’s move on Fischbeck’s blog, which tracked the building’s location over the last week using GPS. She told members that the church would arrive around noon Saturday, then sent word Friday that it was expected closer to 10:30 a.m., urging them to check the blog for the latest location.

But Mike Blake of Blake Moving Co. in Greensboro made better-than-expected time Saturday, rolling up Homestead Road well before 10 a.m. Like many members, Will Davies got there too late to see the building’s arrival, but was happy nonetheless.

“It’s an exciting chapter for us,” said Davies, 26, of Chapel Hill. “I think it will give us more of a sense of community to have a place to call our own.”

By 11 a.m., more than 50 people had gathered to see the church. Cakes, coffee and sparkling cider were laid out on tables, as workers cleared the concrete foundations and prepared to move the former St. Philip’s the final few yards to its destination.

The wooden pulpit from St. Philip’s was brought out and placed on a mat, with the church’s 19th century Bible on top. Fischbeck stood at the pulpit to address her congregation, their new building on wheels behind her, and talked about what an exciting day it was. Then she led the congregation in prayer.

“Oh, God,” she began. “You have never been one to settle down. You have always been on the move.”

Stradling: 919-829-4739

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