When the steeple atop Westminster Presbyterian Church was being built in 1970, the Rev. Wilbur Siddons suggested that the weather vane atop the spire be in the form of a fish — one of Christianity’s earliest symbols.
After a copper fish was fashioned, the next question was who would place it atop the 95-foot tall steeple.
Up stepped 39-year-old Anson “Skip” Loose, one of 14 laymen who helped found the church in 1968.
“I never was afraid of heights, and I volunteered,” he said. “I’m not sure anyone else was crazy enough to volunteer.”
On Oct. 20, 1970, as Loose stepped into a narrow wire basket to be hoisted skyward by a crane, his wife, Jackie, and their two daughters, stepped away.
“She and the two girls left,” he recalled. “They didn’t want to see me go up.”
On Tuesday, Jackie watched as the now-88-year-old Loose reprised that role. The church’s new steeple was bolted in place Tuesday afternoon and at 4:10 p.m., Loose, church administrator Michael Ploutz and church historian Eric Conner, were hoisted to the top of the church, where Loose attached the weather vane.
Tuesday’s mission was less nerve-wracking for all involved. The manlift, Loose said, was sturdier than the wire basket of 1970.
“It was much easier this time,” he said.
Initially, the manlift wasn’t quite high enough for Loose to reach the post on which to place the fish.
“I started to put my foot on the bottom rail, and Michael said, ‘No, I can get closer,’” Loose said.
When he finished the job, a crowd of roughly 25 people applauded his effort.
A former life insurance agent, Loose is well aware of the risks one faces in life. On Monday, one day prior to ascending to the top of the church, the 88-year-old church elder was asked if his life insurance was paid up.
“You bet,” he said with a laugh.
Symbolism at Westminster Presbyterian Church is sparse. Crosses do not adorn the steeple or the sanctuary.
“The church is modeled after the New England meeting house, which was spare and devoid of symbols,” said the Rev. John Light, senior associate pastor.
Michael Rogers, retired pastor at Westminster, noted that non-Catholic churches did not place crosses on or in churches until the mid-19th century.
“The fish and the Greek letters mean Jesus Christ God Son Savior,” Rogers said. “The fish is the earliest of Christian symbols.”
And it has become a part of Westminster’s image.
The original steeple
Ploutz said the church faced a decision about whether to repair or replace the original 49-year-old steeple. Ultimately, the decision was made to replace it. The new steeple, which weighs 2,400 pounds, was built by Arthur Funk & Sons, of Lebanon, in three sections — a cupola base, a cupola and the spire. It is made of steel and fiberglass. The church budgeted $125,000 for the project.
Tuesday marked the fourth time Loose has been hoisted atop the steeple. After having placed the fish on the steeple in 1970, he was told by a worker that those who place the icon typically write their name inside the spire. He went back up, entered a hatch in the cupola and placed a signed and dated business card inside the spire.
On March 8 of this year, he and Ploutz rode the hoist to the top of the steeple where he retrieved the fish and his business card.
“It was a bitter cold day,” Loose said.
Conner, who is the son-in-law of Siddons, Westminster’s first pastor, said “for historical continuity, it’s kind of neat that the same man who put (the fish) there in 1970 is doing again in 2019.”
“But,” he said to Loose, “you know you’re going to have to pass the torch.”
Whoever follows Loose’s footsteps will find a reminder of Loose’s visit. The original business card he placed there in 1970 has been encased in plastic and attached to the inside of the steeple.