After 123 years, Auburn church belfry topped by cross in time for Christmas

By: Gus Thomson, Journal Staff Writer
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It was 123 years ago that the congregation of Auburn’s St. Luke’s Episcopal Church celebrated the opening of their new church – just in time for Christmas.

Fast forward to Wednesday and there’s a new reason to celebrate the season.

Roofer Arturo Ojeda slung a 60-pound aluminum cross onto his back and climbed a ladder to the top of the belfry, a dizzying 40 feet above the Lewis Street sidewalk.

There, he and other Auburn Roofing employees worked during the morning to erect, brace and bolt the new cross to the top of the belfry roof.

From below, Bruce Choate of the St. Luke’s congregation, watched in awe as the cross was put in place – its acid-washed, bronze-colored surface shining in the sun above the distinctive brick-red, shake-shingle church.

The church bell – cast in San Francisco in 1890 – will be ringing again for Christmas Eve services, but St. Luke’s church-goers will be passing under something never seen before – a cross at the top of the highest point of the church, he said.

“It’s going to be blessed some time after the first of the year,” Choate said. He added that there are no plans to climb up to the bell to make the blessing.

As well as Ojeda, Auburn Roofing’s Fernando Molina and Eurbiel Arellano worked from on high to secure the cross. Auburn Roofing owner Jim Doughty said the job was a unique one for him and the business.

He’s traveled to do a job in New York and another on the island of Anguilla in the Caribbean, but never a cross on the roof of a church in his 34 years in the business. As well as putting the cross in place, Auburn Roofing also replaced ridge shingles on the roof. Ojeda volunteered to carry the 4-foot-tall cross up to the belfry, Doughty added.

“Safety was the biggest challenge,” Doughty said. “It was about safely getting up there and getting safety anchors and lines attached.”

Doughty’s wife Bonnie shot several photos to capture a rare roofing experience. She said that plans are to post them on the Auburn Roofing website.

 “It looks great,” Jim Doughty said. “Like somebody was saying, the church has been there for more than a century and they’re finally getting a cross up there.”