History has been a passion of mine since I was a child. It may have been sparked by my interest in congregational history. I remember learning the story of the building of the sanctuary of my home church. It was built in phases over many years. That’s because the church, bursting at the seams with new members as the city around it grew, was worried about how to pay for the new 1000 seat worship space that would replace the 200 seat sanctuary they had used since the Civil War. The women raised the initial funds that paid for the foundation. The foundation was poured and construction stopped. When the congregation had raised enough money, they started on the walls. Every step along the way, they built only what available funds afforded them. Years later, they added a roof. Next came windows and doors, and finally, more years later, the internal finishings. The whole thing took almost a decade and a half. The congregation moved into their newly completed sanctuary only weeks before the stock market crash that plunged our country into the Great Depression. Because of the approach they had taken they entered those difficult financial times debt free.
I started seminary in the mid-1980s, leaving my home congregation to begin serving churches as a licensed minister. My first solo congregation inhabited a pre-civil war era building that rested on a log foundation laid by enslaved persons. With no running water onsite, they had two wooden outhouses out back. Concurrent with that congregation, I served on the staff of a new church start that moved from meeting in a school cafeteria into our first building during my time there, laying the foundation for our second building just as I was leaving.
I’ve cherished the opportunity to learn the history of each congregation I’ve served, including the history of their buildings. Every church has had facility issues to be addressed, and much of my pastoral work has been to support and encourage congregations through renovation, restoration and expansion projects. First Church Congregational has certainly been no exception to that pattern! Beginning with a new kitchen, a new parking lot and major work to the bell tower (which still leaks!), we’ve been intentional about getting our facility back into good shape, ready not only to meet our present ministry needs, but also ready to meet the future needs of our congregation.
When rain water started to drip onto the pews on the Stevens Street side of the church in August, we knew what our next priority had to be. Al Barlow chased down the bids for a new roof, simultaneously walking through the process with the City of Methuen and the Historic District. The Board approved and signed a contract, and fundraising began in early November. By the third Sunday of Advent the new roof was completed and the vast majority of the funds had been raised. We’re hopeful to receive the rest of the funding needed before the end of January.
It feels so good to know the new roof is in place over the sanctuary! Composed of heavy-duty asphalt shingles that resemble slate (and match the roof on Phillips Chapel nicely!), our congregation shouldn’t have to address the roof over the sanctuary for fifty years or more. That’s good news, for sure!
As we finish raising money for the roof, we will turn to future projects. We have to stop the leaks in the bell tower! Once that’s done, we can restore the narthex to its old glory. We need to address the masonry around the whole facility, too, and all of our remaining roofs need to be repaired or replaced. We want to make sure we preserve the LaFarge window, and with it, repair and restore the apse to its historic beauty. And if you think about light fixtures, windows, walls and floors, you realize we’ve got a lot ahead of us! Yet all of it, we’ll address one step at a time. When we are through, we will have done what was needed to preserve our history, to facilitate our ministry in the present day, and to prepare our congregation to live and serve God into the future. That’s no small accomplishment.
See you in church…