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Sanctuary being reborn
in time for Easter

Painstakingly, scars from July fire being erased from Friedens Evangelical Church

By Lawerence Sussman
Mar 2003


Port Washington - Friedens Evangelical Church is rising from the ashes in time for Easter.
A devastating fire last July caused about $1 million in damage, mostly to the historic church's sanctuary.

The building's resurrection includes restoring and realigning the sanctuary and repairing 18 stained-glass windows, including re-creating seven of them, Pastor Mark Voll said.

The church spent another $3,700 to mend a beautiful painting depicting the Ascension of Jesus into heaven that was marred by smoke and water damage and is saving four bronze light fixtures whose bases were charred in the fire.

The church organ also was destroyed and is being replaced with a new digital organ, which uses some of the old organ's pipes.

"We're trying to retain as much of the flavor of the historic church as we can," Voll said, "while at the same time making improvements and enhancements that help us to accomplish our mission in the present and the future."

The work altogether is expected to cost about $1 million.

"We feel a responsibility not to put it back together as expensively as possible," Voll said, "but to be good stewards of the fire insurance money."

The goal is to reopen the sanctuary for Palm Sunday services April 13.

The restoration work, most notably finishing the stained-glass windows, may not be completed until the end of the year.

A lightning bolt hit the church the night of July 8 during a series of thunderstorms.

The fire burned through much of the sanctuary ceiling and severely damaged the organ and the stained-glass windows throughout the sanctuary.

The church, near downtown Port Washington at 454 N. Milwaukee St., began in 1854 and is the oldest Protestant church in the city, Voll said. The oldest part of the sanctuary dates back to 1889.

"Friedens" means peace in German. Church history says services were conducted in German until about 1932. The stained glass windows show significant biblical passages and have inscriptions written in German.

Windows tell the story

A former pastor, Christopher H. Boland, characterized the windows as "sermons in glass . . . Each window," he wrote, "has its particular message that speaks to some condition and concern of the human heart."

Great care is being taken to restore the windows that can be restored, said Paul Phelps, a highly regarded stained-glass artist and owner of Oakbrook-Esser Studios in Oconomowoc. Each badly damaged window is costing several thousand dollars to make new.

Three windows are expected to be in place for Easter services.

"The windows were all hand-painted," Phelps said during a recent visit to the church. "The difficult component is redoing the painting. In this case, with all the heat damage, we preserve everything that we can. But that ends when the glass doesn't exist anymore."

The other big task, he said, "was replicating the missing components."

His company was aided by a pamphlet the church did in 1954 for the church's centennial, titled, "The windows of our church," which pictured each window and the inscriptions on the bottom.

When the work is completed, "all the stained-glass windows will be structurally sound for the next generation," Phelps said.

Kelmann Corp. of Wauwatosa is the general contractor for the restoration work.

The company specializes in fire restoration and reconstruction. And in this case, the work involved realigning the sanctuary.

The sanctuary layout will be flipped from west to east with the altar on the east end and the west end set aside for audio visual equipment, where the altar used to be.

"Some of our longtime members had reservations about the changes," Voll said. "But those who have seen the work in progress have been impressed, and now they can see the wisdom in pursuing the plan."

More visitor-friendly

The new sanctuary, he said, will be more visitor-friendly.

"The church's guests will now be coming in the back of the church," he said. "Before, they entered right at the altar. First-timers felt uncomfortable walking into the sanctuary at the altar with everyone looking at them."

Kelmann expects the new pews to be delivered April 4, along with the lectern and podium. A new movable altar made of parts from the old altar will be set up the first week in April, said Michael Hauser, the project manager.

"We took great care in duplicating the old style (of the church) and the type of millwork doors that existed before the fire," he said. "The goal was to have people come in and say about the restored church, 'It looks like it was all here.' "

After spending so much time with the pastor and the rehabilitation committee discussing what needed to be done, Hauser said, "all of us, if you will, take ownership in the project. And when it's done, they're going to be proud of it."

Christopher Luedke, 23, owner of Gaelic Fire Productions in Whitewater, healed the Ascension painting, which was mounted directly into the sanctuary wall.

The painting was done by J.G. Zabinski in 1897.

No mention could be found of Zabinski in several art archives, including the early Wisconsin Art Archives at the West Bend Art Museum.

It was not unusual for European artists, artisans and craftsmen to come to Wisconsin and abandon their professions shortly afterward because they couldn't find enough work, or they left to go where they could find work, said Tom Lidtke, the executive director of the West Bend Art Museum.

It took Luedke about three weeks to restore the painting, which included cleaning the surface and retouching the colors.

"The idea is you do as little as possible to the painting because the more you do, the more you become the artist," he said.

He spent 21/2 years learning art restoration in Florence, Italy, before getting an art degree at the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater.

Brass Light Gallery of Milwaukee is rejuvenating the four bronze light fixtures, which were in the sanctuary ceiling.

Shop workers will take the fixtures apart, strip off the charred lacquer and restore the metal finish by hand, said Michael Brandenburg, a company lighting consultant.

"It's more than a light fixture," he said. "It's a piece of art that has as much place in the sanctuary as the altar or the stained-glass windows. The fixtures are in the same family of quality."

The church had sold the lighting fixtures to its parishioners, including one who had moved to New Mexico, Voll said. But then, church officials decided to buy them back.

"We couldn't find anything comparable to replace their craftsmanship and character," Voll said.

The same, of course, could be said about the resurrected church.
23834A Church
Is Reborn
Friedens Evangelical Church after the fire
Pews sit amid the rubble of a fire that damaged historic Friedens Evangelical Church last July.
Friedens Evangelical Church after the fire
Photo/Erwin Gebhard
Work on the fire-damaged sanctuary of the church is expected to be far enough along for it to be used for Palm Sunday services. Services have been held in the fellowship hall while the sanctuary is being repaired.
Friedens Evangelical Church after the fire
Photo/William Meyer
Pastor Mark Voll (left) examines designs used by craftsmen to re-create the stained-glass windows in the church. Seven of the windows were too damaged in the fire to be saved. 
Friedens Evangelical Church after the fire
The 18 stained-glass windows were damaged in the July fire at the church. All all being repaired or re-created at a cost of thousands of dollars each. Three should be ready in time for Easter services.
Friedens Evangelical Church after the fire
Photo/William Meyer
Johann Minten, of Oakbrook-Esser Studios in Oconomowoc, holds up old and new stained glass as he discusses the windows with the church's building committee and interested parishioners.
Friedens Evangelical Church after the fire
Photo/Erwin Gebhard
Paul Pennoyer, foreman with Kelmann Corp., Wauwatosa, installs stair risers at Friedens Church.
Friedens Evangelical Church after the fire
Photo/William Meyer
Craftsman Mike Vannucci, of Oakbrook-Esser Studios, cements the pieces of a stained-glass window.


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