After Surviving Isaias Damage, Dove Of Peace Returns To Its Perch On NCC Spire
The gilded dove weathervane that has been missing from the steeple of Newtown Congregational Church since last July when Tropical Storm Isaias blew through the area — removing and damaging the dove — was recently returned to its perch.
Church leaders and members gathered outside the West Street house of worship around 5 pm Thursday, August 26.
Peter Reichmann was the first to formally speak during the brief gathering. As the NCC foundational resources manager, he thanked those who made time to gather and witness for the occasion.
“We know that the Holy Spirit is at work, and we thank our Lord,” Reichmann said.
Senior Pastor Matthew Crebbin also reflected on the day’s event, which was scheduled for the same weekday and start time of the original weathervane installation 31 years ago. He began by noting that late longtime NCC members Jean and Bob Klein “had originally given this gift to this congregation not long after the sanctuary and the steeple were completed, to finish it off, to top it.”
Crebbin reminded the small group that churches originally had steeples “as an element of architecture that showed that people of faith were reaching with their thoughts and their prayers towards the skies, towards the heavens.
“In fact, the word we have, the word we still use in the English language, is aspire. We aspire to things, and the spire is that symbol.”
He spoke of the dove and its symbolism, especially for the local Congregational church.
“It’s so fitting that we have the dove of peace, the dove of the Holy Spirit, that our aspirations should seek to extend towards a commitment to make a difference in the world through our commitment to the spirit of Peace,” Crebbin said.
“In the scripture of Genesis, it is the dove that brings back a small olive branch in the story of Noah, reminding the people, Noah, and his family, that there is hope, that the storm has been finished and that the new beginning is coming,” he later said. “Thus, the dove comes down as a symbol to the people throughout the stories of scriptures, first in the Hebrew text and then in the New Testament, there is this reminder that the dove is this giver of the promise of hope, and the promise of a peaceful tomorrow.”
Crebbin said he and the others gathered to also celebrate Jean and Bob Klein, “to remember them, and to proclaim once again our aspirations for our own community, that we be a place of peace and a place of hope.”
Reichmann spoke again, calling the dove “a gracious gift” of the Kleins, who commissioned the weathervane in memory of their parents.
Following the brief remarks, Paul Bastiaanse went up in a lift and returned the gilded weathervane to the same perch it was first attached to 31 years ago. Bastiaanse is the president of Valley Restoration LLC, a Torrington-based company that specializes in building restoration.
While it was then-Pastor Steve Gordon who went up in a lift in 1990 to place the weathervane atop the steeple, this year, Bastiaanse — who did the repairs on the weathervane — made the approximately 80-foot trip up to reaffix the special gift to its home.
Peter Reichmann spoke with The Newtown Bee a few weeks ago, ahead of the reinstallation of the weathervane. The return of the special ornament coincided with the repainting and some wood repairs to the church’s steeple.
“That was work that needed to be done,” Reichmann said August 17. He coordinated the work needed to repair the church steeple and its weathervane. He spoke with The Newtown Bee ahead of the replacement of the dove.
After some research, ARC-Tech, a Woodbury-based company, was hired to do the steeple work, he said.
“This is a specialty,” Reichmann noted. “We had bids from local contractors, but they were mostly used to residential work.”
The funds for that work were approved through a vote by the congregation during its annual meeting in May.
The repairs to the dove were paid for through a special collection recently undertaken by the church. In the spring, NCC members were invited to donate to the Dove Club, which promised to use the funds received for the restoration and reinstallation.
Reichmann credits fellow NCC member Gary McCrea with the idea.
“It wasn’t so much a drive but a request to the congregation,” Reichmann said. “If they wanted to contribute, this was a way for them to participate.”
The weathervane, he added, “got pretty dinged up” during last year’s tropical storm. “It flew right off the spire. We originally didn’t know if it was salvageable.”
The dove’s return to its perch is the third of four planned projects the church’s Foundational Resources ministry received approval for.
“Of course there are things always going on, general maintenance,” Reichmann said last month.
The larger expenditures included output to have the church’s pews reupholstered and then the re-tiling of two of the building’s bathroom floors.
Later this month, the church plans to begin refinishing the wood floors in its Great Room and will have the building’s rugs cleaned.
A Gift To An ‘Open And Affirming’ Church
Jean and Bob Klein commissioned the dove of peace weathervane to adorn the steeple of the then-brand new church building in memory of their parents, Florence and Frederick Berry and Emily and Henry Klein.
NCC was established in 1714; its members began worshipping at 31 Main Street, in what is now Newtown Meeting House, in 1723.
The new sanctuary building was constructed at 14 West Street and the membership relocated in May 1988.
When the new church was built, it was decided that the historic rooster weathervane would remain atop the spire of 31 Main Street. The Kleins worked with then-NCC Building Committee Chair Win Ballard to determine an appropriate symbol, Bob Klein told The Newtown Bee in May 1990. Ballard reportedly came up with the idea that a dove would be an appropriate symbol.
The Kleins hired John Hallock of Bethlehem to craft the dove of peace weathervane. It is based on the classic design at Mount Vernon.
Instead of flat sheet metal reinforced with iron rods, however — which is how the original Mount Vernon weathervane was built — Hallock put the body of the NCC weathervane together using two sheets of copper, heating and hammering the metal into shape and then soldering the two pieces together, also according to the 1990 Newtown Bee feature.
Hallock, it should be noted, also designed the bee weathervane atop the offices of Bee Publishing Company. His father, Robert Hallock, designed the official Newtown seal and other Newtown symbols.
Reichmann said he believes Ballard and the Kleins selected the dove for the weathervane rather than a cross to adorn the building for its symbolism. Sharing some of his research into the symbol, Reichmann pointed to notes in The Weathervanes of New England. The 2018 book by Glenn A. Knoblock and David W. Wemmer notes that the two most common religious-themed subjects in weathervanes are the dove and the angel. The dove, especially one with an olive branch in its beak — which the Kleins included in their selection — was a symbol used by early Christians as a symbol of peace and baptisms.
Reichmann nodded after reading those words. He smiled, noting that the book also cited Newtown Congregational Church’s weathervane.
“We are a justice-doing, peace-seeking church that welcomes people from all walks of life,” he said. “We try to stress that in all the work we do.
“The dove of peace,” he added, “is also a symbol of love. We are an open and affirming church.”
Jean Klein died in March 2107. Bob followed a few years later, in April 2020.
Thanks to their foresight and a love for their church, however, their gift to Newtown Congregational Church has returned to its home. Additional generations can continue to look toward the dove of peace on West Street.
Associate Editor Shannon Hicks can be reached at email@example.com.