- Associated Press - Saturday, July 5, 2014

RICHMOND, Va. (AP) - In 1775, Patrick Henry called for “liberty or death” at St. John’s Church.

And now, 239 years later, the historic church is calling for donations to repair its roof and paint its walls.

“The big item is replacing the roof of the church,” said Sarah Whiting, executive director of the St. John’s Church Foundation. “It’s leaking.”

And, Whiting said, “All the buildings need to be painted.”

Under its Legacy of Liberty Preservation Project, the St. John’s Church Foundation is working to raise $324,000 to make critical repairs to the national historic landmark.

Located at 2401 E. Broad St. in Church Hill, St. John’s was built in 1741 and lays claim to being the oldest church in Richmond.

The building may be old, but the ideas embodied in Henry’s impassioned call for Americans to arm against British oppression - “Give me liberty or give me death” - even now holds the rapt attention of listeners.

Nearly 250 people filled the church’s pews Sunday to listen intently as actors in 1770s attire portrayed delegates to the Second Virginia Convention - including Henry, Thomas Jefferson and George Washington - debating the issues leading up to Henry’s famous speech, which ultimately moved the convention to put the colony into a state of defense.

“I love history,” said 12-year-old Salaar Khan, a George H. Moody Middle School student in Henrico County. “I love reading in the Revolutionary War, and in most of my reading, I encounter information about the speech.”

“It was really good,” said Khan, who came to Sunday’s re-enactment with his family. “It was really well played out.”

To this day, St. John’s is the home of an Episcopal congregation, which has about 175 active members and a typical Sunday attendance of 90.

This month, the St. John’s Church Foundation received a $100,000 challenge grant from The Robert G. Cabell III and Maude Morgan Cabell Foundation to support the preservation project.

Under the Cabell grant, the church foundation has to raise an additional $100,000 in order to get the funding.

“We are very grateful for this grant,” Whiting said, “Raising the $100,000 match will leverage $200,000 toward the preservation work.”

The foundation has a year to come up with the matching funds for the Cabell grant.

Installed in 1964, St. John’s existing concrete tile roof has reached the end of its life span. The congregation has been patching the roof as a stopgap measure while the foundation raises money for the roof’s replacement.

“And once we get the money, the priority is the roof,” Whiting said. Replacing the roof has an estimated cost of $140,000.

An earlier phase of the preservation project, completed about five years ago, provided upgrades for accessibility, fire protection, restrooms and mechanical systems.

The Legacy of Liberty Preservation Project will:

. replace the church and parish hall roofs,

. paint the exteriors of the church, parish hall and keeper’s cottage,

. repair and replace the church’s shutters,

. paint the roof of the keeper’s cottage,

. perform an interior paint analysis of St. John’s Church,

. and assess how best to conserve the pulpit sounding board.

For all the work that needs to be done, “The church is in good shape for as old as it is,” said Ashley McCune, chairman of buildings and grounds for the church and a foundation trustee. “It’s been maintained.”

The new roof will be a standing seam copper one, McCune said. The church has been roofed with metal in the past, he said: “It will be in keeping with the building.”

Before receiving the Cabell Foundation grant, St. John’s Church had received $110,000 in donations for the preservation project, including $30,000 from The William H., John G., and Emma Scott Foundation; $10,000 from the Windsor Foundation; $30,000 from the Beirne Carter Foundation; and $40,000 from the Roller-Bottimore Foundation.

Because the $110,000 came in before the Cabell Foundation grant, Whiting said, it can’t be used toward the Cabell grant’s required match.

The nonprofit St. John’s Church Foundation’s mission is to promote and preserve the famous church for the education of present and future generations.

Since 1976, the foundation has presented historical re-enactments at the church, the location of the convention of March 1775.

The summer re-enactment series begins in May and takes place 1-3 p.m. every Sunday through the first Sunday of September.

___

Information from: Richmond Times-Dispatch, https://www.timesdispatch.com

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