STOCKTON SPRINGS, Maine — When the crane winched the new white steeple high into a cloudy sky Friday morning, for a moment it seemed as if the town of Stockton Springs held its breath.
When it was placed gently onto the belltower of the Stockton Springs Community Church, the people gathered on Church Street exhaled, especially the elderly ladies who worked their hardest over the past six years to raise money to replace the former, rotted steeple. The “steeple people,” as they’re affectionately called, held any number of bake sales, auctions, yard sales and benefit suppers to raise $268,000 for the cause. Some generous individual donations of as much as $50,000 didn’t hurt, either, they said.
“People have been great,” 83-year-old Miriam Fisher said, adding that at the beginning, the task seemed impossible. “Now, I feel wonderful. It’s an exciting day.”
Six years ago, she and the other five ladies — aged 72 to 91 — watched as their church’s leaning, dangerous steeple was pulled down. It had sat atop the white church from 1860 until 2008 and was listed as a landmark on the Coast Guard’s nautical charts, according to the Rev. Steve DeGroft, who has been pastor of the church for just over a year.
“I’ve been telling people if you want to see small-town America pull together, this is the place,” he said.
Peggy Mace of Searsport said that a lot of financial support came from Stockton Springs school alumni who had their graduation ceremonies in the church.
“They say it takes a village to raise a child. Well, I say it takes a village to raise a steeple!” she said.
DeGroft led the onlookers in a rousing rendition of a hymn of praise before the steeple lifted off the ground. The aluminum-sheathed wooden steeple was built by Maine steeplewright Robert Hanscom of Greene, who has made more than 50 steeples for churches around the state but has said this will be his last.
Pearl Seekins, the oldest member of the steeple committee, said she’s attended the church since 1941 and it is very special to her. She said she made a lot of pies and biscuits to help raise funds, and she didn’t have the words to describe her happiness in seeing the dream realized.
“I prayed when we took it down that I’d live long enough to see it back up. And I have,” she said. “I can’t tell you how I feel — it’s so amazing.”
When asked what she would do with her spare time now the project is over, she smiled.
“I’ve got to find something else to do,” Seekins said. “I’ll do whatever God wants me to do.”
Fisher said she knows one thing she won’t do, now that the money — and the steeple — have been raised.
“I hope I never have to bake another pie,” she said.