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Church’s ‘steeple of light’ inspires, rankles residents

ST. CHARLES, Mo. (BP)–First Baptist Church of Harvester in St. Charles, Mo., is letting its light shine, stirring varying reactions.

Since last spring, three 4,000-watt white beams have shot into the sky, merging at the top as “steeple of light.”

“It’s like a spire that any church would have to call attention to the fact that this is a house of God — except that ours is a light,” said Ron Beckner, First Baptist’s associate pastor for education. “We use it as a representation of the Trinity — one beam each for the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, who are one in God.”

The church received approval from the planning commission of the local jurisdiction, the city of St. Peters, and from the Federal Aviation Administration before installing the lights on the roof of its new atrium. Some neighbors nevertheless have complained that the light interferes with their view of the stars, while from Beckner’s view, it goes into the sky in one spot and doesn’t block the stars.

The light shines from dusk to midnight four nights a week.

“We operate it on the nights there are major activities at the church,” Beckner said. The church has worship services on Sunday, Wednesday and Saturday evenings, and on Fridays youth or other activities are usually held in the church. The church also received city permission to utilize its lights nightly during the Christmas season.

Apart from the complaints, Beckner said, “… the overwhelming response has been positive. It’s become a point of identification for us in the community.

“People say to us, ‘You go to the church with the light.’ Or they pull into our parking lot just look at the light … .”

Some area residents, however, have taken their complaints to city officials. “We’ve received about five to 10 complaints,” St. Peters director of planning and development Julie Powers said. “We’ve also received calls from people who say it’s a good thing.”

Powers sent a letter to the church asking for the light to be restricted to two nights a week. “The church responded saying they will continue to do what they originally said,” she said, “and that is operate it on the nights of services.”

Said Beckner, “We are following our agreements with the city and the FAA, but if, for example, there’s a reason not to have the light on so people can see a meteor shower or an eclipse, then we’d be happy to turn it off.”

Beckner, in a letter to the editor following a local newspaper’s article about the steeple of light, recounted that each beam of light is a maximum of 23 inches wide, and where they converge into a single beam the maximum width is 6 feet.

“Because of the minimal (2%) beam divergence of each light, there is very little cloud to ground reflectivity,” Beckner wrote. “In contrast, parking lot lights may have, by design, a cloud to ground reflection area of several hundred feet.”

The idea for a steeple of light “was originally conceived by the famous architect, Frank Lloyd Wright,” Beckner wrote. The church’s specific design was patterned after a similar light display by a Kansas City, Mo., church, he told Baptist Press.

Inquiries about the steeple of light may be addressed to Beckner at the church, (636) 447-4903, or via the church’s Internet site, www.fbch.com.

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