Townsend, an Andover resident who retired from Bell Labs/Lucent Technologies, began working on the altar in August 2011 when the church started renovating its sanctuary. The goal was to create a table design instead of a box altar as the church had before. He read books on the history of altars to get ideas on designs.
After making hand sketches of different styles, Townsend made three-dimensional images on a computer.
The final design was accepted last December by Gill and Brother Kevin Hackett of St. John the Evangelist, an Episcopal monastery in Cambridge.
Townsend said when Hackett saw the design it reminded him of a tree - sturdy and well grounded like the architecture of the sanctuary directing his eyes up to the top of the table and up to heaven.
Townsend used mahogany for the primary wood with Australian lace wood as an accent because its reddish brown color complements the mahogany. He said mahogany would also go well with the brown sandstone and red brick in the front wall of the sanctuary, while it stands out from the back wall paneled with white oak.
“This project has been a labor of love,” said Townsend. “I have used my hands, skills and tools to shape it and make it my own.”
His wife agreed.
“Over time, it will always be very special to us and the people in the church,” she said.
Originally from St. Louis, Allen Townsend has a degree in engineering from University of Mississippi and a master in mechanical engineering from Massachusetts Institute of Technology and a master of business degree.
He learned woodworking from his father. Through the years, it has been a hobby. He built a coffee table in 1973 that he still uses, as well as an English butler table and a desk.
Two years ago, he took a two-week class at the center for Furniture Craftsman in Rockport, Maine.
“I took it for the fun of it, but it was so exciting it gave me the confidence to move forward and build the altar,” he said.