The Work of this Generation

"This is the last color selection"

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One morning last week at about 8:30, while we were waiting for floor stain samples to arrive, a car approached the church with license plates from Michigan.  A gentleman rolled down the window and asked, “Say, can you help my wife and me locate the burial plot of General Alfred Gibbs?”  He went on,” We spent the night in Bristol, (obviously checking-out General Burnside, originally from Bristol,) and we are heading north to locate other graves of famous Civil War generals, but thought we might make a quick stop here.”

The US flag was fluttering over the grave of Brig General Alfred Gibbs, (B 1823, D1868 USMA ‘46) in the Gibbs graveyard section, north of the church, as it does over the graves of all veterans at St. Mary's cemetery.  Sure enough, it was the grave of the nephew of Sarah Gibbs, the son of George Gibbs III, who was Sarah’s brother and his wife, Laura Wolcott Gibbs.  Their grave sites are adjacent to General Gibbs.  Gen. Gibbs not only fought in battles at Shenandoah Valley, Bristol Mine Run, and many others but stood proudly at Appomattox Court House on April 9, 1865, when Gen. Robert E Lee surrendered the Army of Northern Virginia.  Sarah Gibbs the church founder, lived through the tumultuous Civil War years, dying in 1866, two years before her nephew,  

Alfred was married to Peggy Blair, of Richmond Virginia, and no doubt like many families of that era suffered not only the fears of war but the personal divide among our country and families.  General Gibbs remained on active duty after the war but died at the early age of 45 at his duty station in Ft. Leavenworth, Kansas from a brain disorder.  He returned home to St. Mary's to be buried in the family plot and his wife is buried next to him as well.

When we seem at a loss to understand today how we can recover from political divide, it may be instructive, to reflect on past ages of this country when the divide was enormous, as it was indeed for the family of Gen. Alfred Gibbs. However, as a nation, we overcame and continued as a country.  

So, back to our church restoration project.  As Ian ripped across Florida last week and caused so much loss to so many; as we consider the plight of so many, historically and today,  with enormous individual problems, from personal plights in Ukraine, to neighbors with illnesses, or the death of loved ones;   as there are daily concerns of employment in a now hybrid-Covid environment or inflation that causes many to worry about making weekly expenses,   it does cause me to wonder does God have the capacity or even the patience for minor requests that may seem trivial by comparison?

Nevertheless, as a small group of individuals with very good taste, including our interior designer, Patti Watson, met with me in the historic church last Sunday after church, to select the stain color for the newly installed oak floor, I quietly, under my breath, asked God not to let us make a mistake.  Perhaps he said, “Come on, are you kidding me? Just pick one.”  But I did add, “Hey, this is the last color selection and no more requests on this project, but this one could make or break this restoration.”  So, when you see the finished restoration, if you don’t like the floor stain color, there is someone else you might talk with and suggest we really did need more help, despite the magnitude of the individual and world problems presented to him.  

The installation of the oak flooring went rather quickly, but the guys were exhausted after each thirty minutes of pounding the nails, and they needed a break, even with a hydraulic compressor for assistance.  The crew that Denis Leonti, owner of the flooring company, brought in to do this floor installation, Douglas Arriaza and Jason Pineault have been, like others on this project, terrific.

Once the wood finally arrived the installation of the main church floor was completed in a week on September 23.   However, the chancel area where the altar sits took another week due to the various risers to the altar location and the needed installation of oak bullnose on each step.  The chancel flooring and the whole oak flooring in the sanctuary were completed September 29.  The oak floored wood is beautiful and will last more than another 175 years.  

.The sanding of the wood floor began on Friday, September 30 and they continued on Saturday to help us get back on schedule. 

While the laying of the floor is exhausting, the sanding is back breaking. Both Doug and Jay spent most of their days for two weeks either on their knees or riding a wheeling device, bent over to sand close to the floors next to the walls.  Denis lent a hand with his experienced skill to help with the sanding machine.

All of them worked enthusiastically to perfect our floor.  Their efforts were so typical of what others before them had given, remarkable physical stamina and individual professional pride in their work, to bring our church back to its historic and original yet revived beauty.

I thought of the workers for the dome of the Duomo in Florence, Italy, where Filippo Brunelleschi determined to build a dome between 1420 and 1436.  He asked the workers to go up daily to endure threatening heights and physical exhaustion to haul the stones with rope devices to complete this remarkable project.  Our workers have been of the same quality, character and professionalism, taking pride in their work and working tirelessly so that this restoration can be completed on time and in a fashion that all in St. Mary's congregation now and in the future can be proud.  We have indeed been blessed.

Starting this week, we have posted on the doors to the church a sign asking everyone to please avoid entering the church and walking on any part of the newly installed floor.  If you look in Exodus, it is referred to as the 11th commandment, “THOU SHALT NOT WALK ON THE NEWLY FINISHED FLOOR UNTIL IT IS FULLY CURED AND DRIED, OR DOUG, JAY AND GOD ARE NOT GOING TO BE HAPPY.”

On Monday this week, with the stain color chosen, the crew finished sanding the floor going both diagonally and vertically to get an even cut across the grain.

Trust me this is very hard work, if you have not seen an oak floor installation.  

The completion of the floor, after it has been sanded, is a three-step process, which began on Tuesday.  First, they “wet popped” or soaked the floor with water,

which makes the grain stand-out for the next step, the staining.  After a night of the water drying, the next day the chosen stain was applied Tuesday.  This is where an experienced floor crew is critical to ensure a uniform color application across the entire large surface.  This requires them to move fast and efficiently on application and wiping up excess.

As the stain is applied, they uniformly remove any excess, which is very important to give a consistent coloration across the floor. 

After the stain has been applied and any defect corrected or refinished, the floor dries overnight.  On Thursday of this week, the day following the application of the stain, the first coat of a poly sealer was applied.  What a difference the poly sealer makes to the stain color and the various wood grain features.  A second coat of poly was applied on Friday, to give the floor a hard finish. Then we let the floor rest and the poly cure and harden till next week.

Just before the sanding was about to start, we also installed the acoustic and organ speakers, tucked onto the ceiling beams.  It was easier before the pews were installed to get the ladders in place.  Ambient Sound, Inc., our sound consultants and David Brierley, our church sound expert, then did sound checks on our newly installed system.  Despite not having all the new equipment, due to supply chain delays, they were able to cobble together a sound system using some of our existing equipment that sounded, well, heavenly.  We have a few adjustments which is why we wanted an early installation and test of the sound system, but David is on it and confident that by the end of the month the system will be, dare we say…perfect. 

The project is now coming to a rapid conclusion with lots of action in the next several weeks.  On October 12 the refinished pews will start arriving and be installed along with the altar.  Then there will be a cleaning of the church by a professional company to remove any dust from the floor and pew installation.  As you can see from the previous pictures, we hung plastic sheets on the walls and plastic covered the speakers to protect them from the work dust.  Although the sanders had vacuums on their equipment, dust still escaped from the process which we anticipated.

When the pews are in place then the new carpet, which is in Rhode Island, will be installed, this should take a week or two to finish.  

And as they say at NASA,” All systems are a go!  We are getting ready for lift-off by the end of the month as originally planned….and slightly under budget as originally hoped!” 


Posted by Ron Machtley with

"As sweet as the peals of the best cast bells"

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We have all endured the uncertainty of the supply chain difficulties resulting from the Covid pandemic with certain commitments overtaken by uncontrollable events.  What I have learned, though, from a lifetime of people responding, “No, definitely not possible” is that everything, even “No, not possible” is still often possible.  Sometimes the right inflection and insertion of frustration, suggested innovation, a bit of appropriate expressed irritation combined with compassion and sympathy, or maybe even prayers may turn the tide.  

And so, the oak flooring arrived this past Monday morning, September 19!  And I must admit that the second scripture reading, from the past Sunday service of Psalm 113 was right on point, “Hallelujah! Give praise, you servants of the Lord! …..the wood is here!”  Okay, maybe the last few words were recently added.  

Thus, the lingering question, “When will the oak flooring arrive, so that we can continue the restoration of the historic church?” was answered as shown in the below picture.  The wood is indeed here.

 And the sounds of hydraulic driven nails going into our oak flooring is as sweet as the peals from the best cast bells.  

 The floor installation crew of Douglas Arriaza and Jay Pineault along with their leader Denis Leonti was already set-up Monday morning, ready to begin the new flooring,  as soon as the wood arrived, as shown on the next picture! 

It was clear on the previous Friday, after a very interesting process and a story for another time, that it might happen. But like a famous Biblical character, sometimes seeing is believing.  Well, we probably broke protocol, but when the truck loaded with our wood arrived in front of our historic church on Monday morning, we rang the church bell in celebration! 

Of note, as part of this project, we added a canvas sleeve to the bell rope to prevent it from chaffing and fraying as it is pulled next to the church stone. So, we might argue in defense of a protocol violation, that it was just a test of the new canvas sleeve.

One advantage of the delay for Doug and Jay is that the outside temperature has gone down and the working conditions inside the church are now so much better, allowing their strenuous work to proceed faster.  Another advantage is the humidity of the underlying, existing plywood is also now the same as the newly delivered oak wood which is a prerequisite for a good floor installation.  In just a couple of days' work, they have accomplished a great deal as seen in the next pictures. 

One advantage of the quarter cut white oak that we acquired, in addition to the beautiful grain and the tightness of the wood, is that it also comes in longer boards in the mix batch.  This allows our longer church floor length installation ( we are installing the boards vertically from the back of the church to the front of the church) to go much faster. The wood installers know we were slipping on our schedule, and they are determined to make-up any lost time.  We will obviously need to sand the floor when installation is finished, stain the wood with a complementary matching pew stain, and then apply two coats of polyurethane.  This completion will take several weeks, but we project we are back on schedule and on budget, with a completion date still sometime in October as originally forecast. Thank you very much, Denis Leonti and your flooring crew.

During the past week, we, like millions of people around the world, watched the solemn, respectful and beautifully executed funeral of Queen Elizabeth II in Westminster Abbey and then in St. George’s Chapel.  It was a special passing for a Queen who had dedicated her long life in a special way to her country and its people.  And as we watched the magnificent pageantry of the funeral service, in the beautiful Westminster Abbey, it seemed to answer the question, the essence of why we spend our time and our money on building and restoring a special place of worship.  Whether it is the grand and glorious facility of Westminster Abbey begun during the reign of King Henry III, in 1245, built on a site that had been used as an Abbey in the 11th century or our own St. Mary’s Church begun in 1847 by a woman, Sarah Gibbs, who had a vision for religious life in southern Portsmouth and built on the Vinson farm owned by the Potter family, the answer is the same.  

And the answer seemed clear during this service, that houses of worship provide over the centuries not only unique places of worship where people create individual spiritual relationships between themselves and their God, but as well, they are important places for faith and family to celebrate the special events of life:  baptisms, weddings and final funeral farewells.  These houses of worship are the edifices of legacy creation that are important to the soul of an individual and the community.

 So, onward to the restoration completion of our historic church, thanks to the generosity of so many within the congregation and forward to the continued worship in this historic St. Mary’s Church, which has been so important to so many individuals throughout its history.  Anon 

Posted by Ron Machtley with