Scaffolding has been removed from the Saint Paul Street church. Photo by Ed Gunts.
Scaffolding has been removed from the Saint Paul Street church. Photo by Ed Gunts.

It took 10 years, but workers this week finally removed scaffolding from around the historic church at Saint Paul and Chase streets in Mount Vernon-Belvedere.

The scaffolding came down so new owners could bring in equipment and start repairs to the roof of the building at 1110 Saint Paul St., last used as the New Refuge Deliverance Cathedral.

The scaffolding was erected by the city housing department in 2013 to protect the public after tiles from the building’s sloping slate roof fell to the sidewalk, endangering passersby.

City officials tried for years to get the church’s previous owners to make repairs, but they said they didn’t have funds to do so. Part of the issue was that the church, now more than 150 years old, is in a historic district and the city required that the owner follow local preservation guidelines and repair the roof with slate tiles appropriate for the building, adding to the cost.

The Gothic-style church was designed by noted architects E. Francis Baldwin and Bruce Price, the father of etiquette authority Emily Price, and constructed between 1870 and 1872. It features a six-story bell tower and Tiffany windows. Its main sanctuary seats 750, with room for another 50 in the balcony.

Home to Episcopalians for most of its history, the church was originally called Christ Protestant Episcopal Church, and later known as Christ Church. New Refuge acquired it in 1994, after Christ Church ceased operations.

The building has suffered years of deferred maintenance. In addition to falling roof tiles, the windows in the bell tower have lost their glass panes, and the church bell hasn’t rung in years. All of the mechanical systems are outdated, and the sanctuary needs repairs to its plasterwork and a fresh coat of paint. Yet its thick stone walls provided insulation that kept the interior warm enough to occupy even in the winter. The building was last used for worship services in early 2021.

In January of 2021, New Refuge sold the church to Olivet Assembly USA, a religious organization that intends to repair the building for continued use as a church. New Refuge sold the building at the urging of city officials, who agreed to waive certain fines and fees, and keep it out of the city’s annual tax sale, if the congregation would sell it. The sale price was $550,000 – lower than many nearby houses are bringing, and a reflection of the need for repairs. A. J. Billig & Company represented the seller.

At the time of the sale, Olivet Assembly General Secretary Anthony Chiu said the church’s new name would be New Life Evangelical Church and that repairing the building’s roof and spire would be a top priority. He also said its sanctuary would be preserved as much as possible, including its pews, altar and Tiffany windows, and retrofitted with state-of-the art video technology so services can be viewed online or in person.

Chiu initially promised that the scaffolding would come down by the end of 2021 or early 2022. A contractor’s sign went up on the scaffolding, but work never began.

Last week, area residents were notified that parking would be restricted along portions of St. Paul and Chase streets so a “boom lift” could be brought in and work could begin. But rainy weather forced the work to be postponed because the roof subcontractor needed two or three consecutive days without rain in order to begin work.

This week, with clear skies in the forecast, workers finally took down the scaffolding. The roof work is expected to take a week or more, and on-street parking in the immediate area will be restricted until that phase of the work is complete, but the scaffolding is not expected to come back.

Representatives of the city and the Mount Vernon Belvedere Association say all the construction materials adhere to the city’s preservation guidelines – a requirement for permits to be issued.

The signs of work were greeted with surprise and relief by Mount Vernon residents, who posted photos on social media.

“Wow, after 10 plus years the scaffolding is gone,” said one.

“So beautiful to see this building again,” said another.

Based in St. Louis, a division of World Olivet Assembly, Olivet Assembly USA is an evangelical ministry with Presbyterian roots. According to its website, it’s “an association of Bible-centered churches and para-churches in America,” coordinating local missions in all 50 states and sending Olivet Assembly missionaries to many countries around the world. At present, the Olivet congregation closest to Baltimore is Bethel Presbyterian Church in Washington, D.C.

Chiu told the Baltimore Brew in 2021 that Olivet wanted to come to Baltimore because it’s one of the few large American cities where Olivet doesn’t have a presence.

“From our perspective, it’s also a city that can benefit from the ministry of God’s word,” he said. “Obviously, our mission is to spread the gospel, and for us Baltimore is a very important location for that work.”

Chiu said Olivet was attracted to the St. Paul Street building because of its location, history and architecture.

“This was built by God’s people,” he said. “This has been used as a church for a long time. We hope that it can stay that way. It has very significant religious value.”

Ed Gunts is a local freelance writer and the former architecture critic for The Baltimore Sun.

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