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Newton’s Grace Episcopal Church to receive key grant for bell tower restoration

The historic Grace Episcopal Church bell tower on Oct. 28.Luca Becker

Grace Episcopal Church in Newton will receive a grant of up to $250,000 from the National Fund for Sacred Places, a major milestone in the church’s effort to raise funds for its historic bell tower.

The nearly 150-year-old tower’s masonry has been cracking for years and is at risk of collapsing.

“It was just a great vote of confidence in our project,” said the Rev. Dr. Regina Walton, head rector of the church. “We’re pretty overjoyed by it.”

As a part of the grant, the fund will provide a multiyear partnership to consult with the church to optimize its use of space and improve community outreach.

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The money will be in the form of a matching grant, meaning the church must raise the money itself before the grant funds are released, Walton said. The match will be dollar-for-dollar for the first $100,000 raised and one dollar for every two dollars raised for the remaining $150,000.

The church has to demonstrate that it can raise money consistently, “and it can come from a number of different sources,” said Scott Aquilina, the project manager for the tower restoration. “Most of it has been pledges from our parish, but some of the money has come from the community.”

In August, the city approved the church for another matching grant of $1.43 million in Community Preservation Act funds due to the tower’s status as a historic landmark and its significant structural instability.

“I can put my hands in the holes,” Aquilina said. “It’s in worse condition than it was a year ago.”

The Community Preservation Act allows Massachusetts cities and towns to levy a surcharge of up to 3 percent — the rate is 1 percent in Newton — on property taxes to fund community projects.

CPA funds, which are partially matched by the state, can be used for creating and maintaining open space such as parks and fields, restoration of historic landmarks, and affordable and community housing. The amounts for each category are preallocated each year, meaning the church’s grant will not affect the money available for parks and affordable housing.

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According to a decision by the Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts in 2018, CPA funds can be used for projects that do not “substantially aid the church in its essential function” as a place of religious worship.

Aquilina said the money from the National Fund for Sacred Places grant can be put toward matching the city’s CPA grant or used for other repairs the city is barred from funding — like the 19th-century bells housed in the tower and internal restorations — as well as other congregation activities.

For the bell repair, the church is partnering with the Verdun Bell Company, a family-owned business based in Cincinnati.

“They’re really the premier historic bell restoration outfit,” Aquilina said.

The National Fund for Sacred Places, a program that partners with the National Trust for Historic Preservation, awards millions of dollars in grants to congregations around the country. Established in 2016, the fund is designed to award grants to 50 houses of worship over four years.

“There were about 300 congregations that sent a letter of interest,” Walton said. “Ultimately, they chose 15. We’re really, really honored to have been chosen for such a competitive grant.”

In addition to Newton’s Grace Episcopal Church, the fund this year awarded grants to the well-known Washington National Cathedral and St. John’s Lafayette Square in the District of Columbia, among other churches.

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Grace has applied for the grant before and has always stood out as an applicant, said Allison King, the grant manager for the National Fund for Sacred Places.

This year, Grace “reached that critical mass of both need and opportunity and the capacity to follow through with what they’re planning,” King said.

The church’s restoration started on Sept. 1. Currently, Aniceto Historical Restoration, a Milford-based contractor the church hired for the project, is focused on preparing the bell tower for the coming stonework. Mortar can’t be poured in below-freezing temperatures, Aquilina said, so the masonry will begin in the spring.

“We are very, very, very blessed,” Aquilina said. “It’s a miracle that we are in the position we are in.”

Luca Becker and Jake Neenan can be reached at newtonreport@globe.com.