A monument, a welcome home sign, a beacon of hope: just some of the terms used by congregants to describe the glowing tower of St. John’s Evangelical Lutheran Church in Lindenhurst.
Residents are seeing the tower lights for the first time in several years thanks to stepped-up fundraising efforts led by a determined nearly lifelong church member.
The lights of the 75-foot-tall tower attached to the church stopped working around eight years ago, members said. Without the money for repairs, the church was forced to leave the tower in darkness. The church’s council began discussing tearing the structure down.
“When I heard that, that’s when I said, ‘OK, now it’s time for me to step up,’ ” said Emily Kienle, 71.
Kienle, who was baptized in the church and spent most of her life as a member, said she found the tower lights comforting during times of stress.
“It was very calming,” she said. “So that’s where I have my attachment and passion to have it back the way it was.”
Kienle sprang into fundraising action. She started seeking donations, posting flyers around the village and spreading the word on Facebook. Without any large fundraising events, the money came in slowly but eventually reached $52,000.
“Emily was the driver, we were just behind her, eating her dust,” said church council member Keith Cavanagh, 50.
The tower, which was built in 1962 and is one of the highest points in Lindenhurst, had been neglected for so long that it had become a haven for pigeons. Feces, feathers, and dead and injured birds that were unable to fly were found inside.
“The cleanup was not your average cleanup,” Cavanagh said. The wounded pigeons were taken in by a woman who cares for birds and the tower was disinfected, with protections added to keep birds out. The cleanup cost $50,000 and the light repair cost $2,000.
The lights came on just weeks before Christmas, in the red, blue and purple liturgical colors.
The tower lights are more than religious, said Jim Kaiser, 55, the church council’s president. They also serve as a guide to the church’s food pantry and other programs for the needy, he said.
“It’s like a welcome sign for the community,” Kaiser said. “It tells people in your time of need, you can go there for help, that everybody is welcome at the church.”
Since the lights have come back on, congregants are sharing their tower-related stories, Kaiser said: It was where they met their spouse, took photos after their first Holy Communion, gazed at from the platform of the LIRR station after a long day of work.
More repairs to the tower are needed. Rotted wood and cracked bricks need to be replaced, along with the church’s original bells. Cavanagh said estimates for the additional work are about $80,000. Fundraising will continue, he said.
“We want to keep it alive,” he said. “It’s a beacon for residents. It needs to be brought back to its splendor.”
A sight to behold
A primer on St. John’s Evangelical Lutheran Church:
- First church structure built: 1871
- Location: Falersben Avenue, now West John Street, where Evangel Church of God now sits
- Formally incorporated as “Evangelische Lutherische St. Johannis Gemeinde”: 1876
- Current building constructed: 1960
- Current location: 36 E. John St.
- Tower built: 1962
- Tower height: 75 feet
- Cross atop tower: 27 feet
Sources: St. John’s Evangelical Lutheran Church website; Anna Jaeger, Lindenhurst Village historian; Emily Kienle