Category Archives: chapel update

Introducing the William Mercer Green Society

Since its inception, the Chapel of the Cross has been buoyed by visionary leadership, by people who could see beyond the present to the great things that our parish could be and do in the world.

William Mercer Green, whom we think of as our “founding priest,” was the first of those visionary leaders.  Not only did he lead with intangible gifts, he also provided the kiln to fire the original bricks of our chapel.

To that end, we are creating the William Mercer Green Society to recognize those who have made planned gifts to the Chapel of the Cross, as well as to educate those who are interested in supporting COTC ministries in perpetuity.

Many of you will be receiving a brochure in the mail that outlines the many ways you can include Chapel of the Cross in your financial plans.  It also includes a message from the most recent of our visionary leaders, Stephen Elkins-Williams.  The planned giving chart and the message from Stephen are included with this email.

The first meeting of the William Mercer Green Society is open to all parishioners.  On September 17 at 7 pm, Stephen Elkins-Williams will give a talk about the Rev. Green and his history with the Chapel of the Cross.  He was a fascinating man, and our parish was not the only one he founded!  Wine and light hors d’oeuvres will be served.

Please join us as one interesting man talks about another.  And learn how you can “build on the legacy of past parishioners by reflecting the simplicity and generosity of letting go.”

Walker Mabe

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A certain light


The stones of the old buildings in Europe have a certain light to them, characteristic of the great cities and their local quarries and kilns.  This afternoon the east wall of our chapel glows warm and pinky-gold in the cloister light, perfectly blending with the granite of the church and the old bricks of the parish house. The faint echo of the Royal School of Church Music choir, practicing for Sunday’s service in the church, convinces us we are in another time and place. But it’s our time and place, and isn’t it beautiful?


The crew has almost completed work on the east side.  There is just one set of scaffolding remaining, where the workers will repair some of the mortar joints before applying a second coat.  All the parapet caps are in place, including the long cap that runs from the side wall up to the tower.


Once the front and northeast corner is completed, all the scaffolding will be moved around to the west wall and front corner, where most of the parapet caps are already in place.  We look forward to seeing the western wall alive in the blaze of a Carolina sunset.


Our time and place. Remember that during the summer months, expenses continue, even though many of you are on vacation. Please keep your pledge current via online giving while you are away!

Walker Mabe

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Neapolitan ice cream

On these scorching summer days, our Chapel looks like a shimmering mirage of… Neapolitan ice cream.

With the removal of the scaffolding around the tower on the north wall, it is easy to see the original paint color (vanilla), the brick in paint-removal mode (chocolate), and the finished product (strawberry).

The crew have completed the paint removal on the east wall and have started to apply the Keim mineral coating, repairing mortar joints as they go. As I watch from my vantage point, Frank is finishing up the final parapet cap along the east wall. I can hear the lively conversation of the workers from their perches on the east wall scaffolding–always amusing and occasionally instructive.

Next they will erect scaffolding along the west wall and begin the process on that side.

Frank, Sean and all the workers continue to be very sensitive to our schedule of worship, preschool pick-up and drop-off, and special services. And they are maintaining their humor in spite of the heat.

Stay cool. Remember that during the summer months, expenses continue, even though many of you are on vacation. Please keep your pledge current via online giving while you are away!

Walker Mabe

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Tower view

Our Chapel tower view has improved immensely with the removal of the scaffolding and the completion of that part of the restoration project.  Now you can start to get an idea of what the finished product will look like.

People have been coming in off the street to exclaim and ask to take photos — the local populace and visitors agree that the color and workmanship are just what was needed.

The workers are making progress on the east side.  Scaffolding is erected and about half the surface has been stripped.  We have a great view of the process: a hydrogen peroxide stripper is applied with a paintbrush, covered in plastic and allowed to “dwell” on the brick.  Later the workers power wash it off , applying elbow grease on the tough spots.  The west side should go even more quickly as it is more weathered.

It looks like parapet caps will be added on the west side next week.  We had a question from a concerned parishioner about the lead-coated copper in the caps.  The caps have a special coating and are of a composition that is allowed by the EPA for architectural applications.  This ancient method that protects churches and cathedrals around the world is hundreds of years old, and more environmentally friendly than it’s ever been.

Happy 4th of July.  The office will be closed tomorrow in observance of Independence Day. Remember that during the summer months, expenses continue, even though many of you are on vacation.  Please keep your pledge current via online giving while you are away!

Walker Mabe

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The brick is back

The first round of stripper has been applied and removed and indications are good that the majority of the old paint is coming off relatively easily.

The stripper is a natural, hydrogen peroxide-based paste — with a consistency sort of like Crisco.  The workers smear it on, cover it with plastic, and let it dwell for a couple of days.  The stripper comes off with water and a scrub brush, bringing the old paint with it.

You can clearly see the brick at the top of the tower. A very old coating of lime wash has virtually soaked into the soft old brick, leaving an excellent surface for the application of a new wash coating.  There will be spots where we have to go back and re-clean to remove paint, but it looks like it will not be necessary to do much, if any, micro-abrasion.

While some of the workers have been at work on the tower, others have been removing the bad tar patch job along the south wall of the roof, abutting the parish house.  They uncovered a place where the mortar had completely dissolved and the brick had broken, disintegrated, or just fallen away.  That area has now been re-mortared and rebuilt.

Next week the workers will fall into a quicker rhythm, removing paint on the rest of the tower.   They will also clear areas on the east and west sides of the chapel where color samples will be applied. We hope to order the new wash for the chapel by the end of the month.

The folks from Waters found some old brick in Durham that matches ours in age, color — and even more important — in compressive strength.  We won’t have to replace very much, but when we do, we have the perfect match.

Walker Mabe

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A bird’s eye view

The workers have completed the scaffolding and provided a protected way through the front door into the chapel.

More importantly, they have built a safe and sturdy structure around the tower that will be with us through most of May.  The crew from Waters Craftsmen immediately began demolition of the tower roof.   They will replace the old, leaky roof and poorly patched flashing with a new copper roof. Then damaged areas of the brick parapets will be repaired, followed by lead cladding and flashing.  Once the tower is done, workers will move to the north (Franklin Street) façade.

We wish we had a bird’s eye view of the work — all we can see now are the brightly colored hard hats of the workers moving around on the tower roof.  In the past, we have had to use a special — and expensive — lift to inspect and maintain the tower.  Waters is adding a secure hatch that can be used to check out the roof and parapets as part of regular facilities management.  The hatch will not be readily accessible to the casual parishioner or student!

The chapel will welcome worshippers through the days of Holy Week and Easter and on into Pentecost.  We do not foresee any interruption in its use as a place of quiet prayer and joyful celebration.  Starting Monday evening, the UNC students who organize the annual 24/7 week of prayer will use the chapel for the evening portions of their event.  We are leaving the light over the front door in place until the week of prayer is concluded; afterwards, we will take it down for safekeeping.

Very careful and thoughtful work is underway to select the new wash color.  Samples will be painted on both the east and west sides of the chapel in order to see them in all lights.  Much more on this later.

– Walker Mabe

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Our architectural jewel

All week long the scaffolding has risen around the tower and across the north face of the chapel.  Carefully harnessed and moving with skill and caution, workers have built the structure that will enable the restoration and repair to go forward.

A foreman from Waters Craftsmen removed some pieces of slate on the roof and laid down a snow and ice shield to protect from the weather at the spots where the feet of the scaffold meet the roof.

There is bracing across the front entrance of the Chapel, but we stress that this is temporary and will be removed once the scaffolding is secure.  The caution tape and scaffolding materials in the grass and in the circle will also disappear when this part of the job is complete.

Next week, work will begin on two project stages at once: the demolition of the tower roof and the removal of the coating on the tower brickwork.  The team will complete its work on the tower in May and then move on to the east and west sides of the chapel.  They will leave the scaffolding up for a short while longer for the painters to use while repainting the wooden quatrefoil trim and the window louvers on the tower.

Everyone involved in this work is acutely aware that Holy Week begins with Palm Sunday this weekend.  Workers and materials will be out of the way well before the first service of Holy Week begins on Maundy Thursday.

Our chapel‘s personality shines out through the scaffolding’s embrace.  Somehow the silvery grid highlights the way a church tower points towards heaven.  One is reminded of the construction of the great cathedrals, or the rebuilding of the City of London after the Great Fire or the Blitz.  The chapel restoration will be brief compared to those years-long projects.  It feels good to polish up our architectural jewel.

– Walker Mabe

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Our chapel’s fine old face

Starting next week, workers will erect scaffolding around the tower and along the front of the chapel, and our chapel restoration project will be underway.

You will still be able to use the front doors, and worshippers will be protected as they enter and exit.  There may be brief periods when you will need to use the side door in the cloister, but generally all will go forward as usual in our daily rounds of evening prayer and Holy Eucharist.  While the circle may be blocked temporarily as equipment arrives and trucks unload, traffic and parking in the circle, as well as preschool drop-off and pick-up, will not be affected.  The workers will park trailers in two of the parking spaces in our lot for the duration of the project.

Once the tower scaffolding is up, work will begin to repair the brick tower parapets,  the slanted front wing walls, and the tower roof and flashing.  The harmful tar will be removed and any damaged brick patched or replaced.  Throughout the project the workers will use locally sourced, historic brick that matches the original brick in size, color, and compressive strength.  They do not foresee that many bricks will need replacing.

The old tower roof will be taken away and replaced with a new 16-ounce, flat-seam copper roof.  All the seams will be sweated and soldered as befits a proper copper roof.  The workers will add a new hatch so that we can access the roof safely and easily in the future for maintenance and inspections.

The parapets present a special problem and we can’t get them spiffed up fast enough!  All the tar, sealant, and loose mortar will go away.  The parge coating — a thin layer of mortar similar to stucco and made of dry sand and aged lime putty — will be cleaned, prepped, and patched.  Each parapet will be clad in lead and covered with a 16-ounce copper capstone cover.  The flashing at the base of the parapets will be replaced and tied in with the new roof.  (Most of this work will take place behind the parapets and inside the crenellations — where water has gathered and wicked into the walls for many years.)

At the joint where the vertical parapet wall meets the horizontal roof, the workers will install reglets — L-shaped flashing strips that keep moisture from entering at the joint. The reglets will be set with lead and repointed with mortar.

Once the tower and front wing walls are complete, our painters will use the scaffolding to access the tower and finish painting the trim to match the windows.

Then the scaffolding will come down in front and be moved to the east and west sides where the process will be repeated.  The south wall that adjoins the rest of the parish house will be the final section of parapet repairs.

The second phase of our project will involve using a gentle, peroxide-based stripper to remove the old yellow latex paint.  The peroxide solution will be applied, covered in plastic, and allowed to “dwell.”  If needed, the workers will use a micro-abrasive system that combines water and very fine, powdered glass to smooth it all out — dermabrasion for our chapel‘s fine old face.

We are in good hands here.  David Black of Hager Smith (right) and Collin Waters of Waters Craftsmen (left), along with project foremen Frank and Ben Camden and Mark Clay have worked on projects just like ours for many years.  They know the rhythms of the liturgical year and the special relationship parishes have with their worship spaces.  They will be with us for five or six months.

Let the transformation begin!

– Walker Mabe

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