BATH, Maine — The planned sale of a more than 40-year-old church is also forcing the Bath Food Pantry to look for a new home.
The Neighborhood United Church of Christ at 150 Congress Ave. is listed for sale for $695,000. It has been the UCC’s home since the merger of two downtown congregational churches – the Central (now Chocolate) and Winter Street churches – the Rev. Bill Bliss said Tuesday.
“They moved out here to the edge of town, and built this 20,000-square-foot facility,” with a sanctuary that seats 450 people, Bliss explained.
But the church culture has changed, he said, and only 50 or 60 people now show up most Sundays. As a result, the church has too much space.
“We (do) a lot of property management … that in general distracts us from our purpose, which is to bring healing and generosity and spiritual growth,” Bliss said. “… It takes a lot of time to manage all of this property.”
The congregation would like to return to downtown, Bliss said, “to restore the presence of a vital faith community in the heart of the city.”
The decision to move is “the result of a deliberate, and careful, choice on the part of the congregation,” he explained. “We’ve really been through quite a discernment in the last year or so. … We’ve known for a long time that a building is not essential to make a church be effective.”
The Congress Avenue property is at least the congregation’s sixth location in the past 250 years, Bliss said.
The church also hosts a Tuesday evening neighborhood cafe that usually draws 100-150 people. Bliss said he hopes a new location will provide better accessibility for those with limited transportation, and that the cafe will be open more frequently, perhaps every day of the week.
The church’s move means that the Bath Food Pantry – which with a soup kitchen and clothing exchange comprises the Bath Area Food Bank – must find a new home, too.
It has been at the church for more than 14 years, according to Kimberly Gates, spokeswoman for the pantry and administrator of the Bath Area Mobile Food Truck.
The church has “been amazing, and generous, and accommodating,” Gates said last week. “To have to leave them, and to leave there, is going to be like leaving family. They’ve been really, really good to us. They don’t charge us any rent. … They charge us a slight amount of money for an electric bill and garbage, and that’s it.”
The pantry has through the end of the year to move, if the church is sold, Gates said. But she hopes to be out no later than the end of November, to avoid having to move during the holidays.
Gates said she has looked at several locations for the pantry and has had offers, but so far has found nothing that would work. The pantry has to be within the city limits, and needs about 4,000 square feet, which includes storage space for its 11 freezers. Handicapped accessibility is needed, and a first-floor location is preferred because so much food goes in and out.
The kitchen is also in need of a new manager, a position vacant since June, and it cannot open without one, Gates said. But demand tends to be low during the summer, which has allowed the kitchen to be shut. Gates said she hopes it will reopen the beginning of October.
The kitchen has been open Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays from 11 a.m.-noon at the First Baptist Church, 851 Washington St. The pantry is open Tuesdays and Fridays from 5-7 p.m.
Gates can be reached through the food pantry at 737-9389, or the soup kitchen at 798-2239.