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Channing Memorial Church

Restoring a Gilded Age church

Church built to honor William Ellery Channing in 1880 is restored for the 21st century.
By Jane Greer
Winter 2009 11.1.09

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Many congregations with historic buildings that need extensive and expensive repairs face the decision of whether to renovate their buildings or sell them. In 2007 Channing Memorial Church in Newport, Rhode Island, reaffirmed its commitment to its sanctuary. Since then the congregation has reconstructed its stone steeple and ordered a new bell to complete its rare set of chimes. To date they have raised $450,000 in a capital campaign and received $800,000 in grants, the largest portion from the Save America’s Treasures program.

The church, named after prominent nineteenth- century Unitarian minister and theologian William Ellery Channing, who was born in Newport, was built in 1880 in the Gilded Age style. The building features a bas-relief sculpture of the Rev. Charles T. Brooks by Augustus Saint-Gaudens and stained glass windows by John LaFarge and Donald MacDonald. The window at the front of the church behind the pulpit, by MacDonald, is called “The Sower.” Donors across the country contributed to the building’s construction as a means of honoring the centennial of Channing’s birth.

The church, which is located near Bellevue Avenue where most of Newport’s opulent summer mansions are located, is starting to draw its own visitors.

The congregation made the decision to restore the building during a yearlong process of reflection on the church’s mission and its future. “We have a sense of reverence and responsibility to be stewards of this sacred space, both as artwork and as a gathering place for worship,” said the Rev. Amy Freedman, the church’s minister. The building is a popular site for weddings, lectures, concerts, and public events.

See sidebar for links to related resources. Photographs by Matthew Cohen Photography.

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