December 12, 2018
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Maine congregation wants to revive 19th-century building into ‘dream church’

Jessica Picard | Lincoln County News
Jessica Picard | Lincoln County News
Broad Bay Church, in downtown Waldoboro. The church has begun a $750,000 capital campaign.

Broad Bay Church, in downtown Waldoboro, has begun a $750,000 capital campaign to build the congregation’s “dream church” by making the 1832 building safe, accessible, and flexible.

The project’s roots go back to about three years ago, when inspections showed that the foundation and steeple, among other things, needed work.

“Nothing was critically urgent, but it was all very important,” said the Rev. Nancy Duncan, Broad Bay’s pastor for nearly 14 years.

The congregation could have acted immediately to fix those issues and waited to deal with others as they came up. But a group that had already poured so much into its church was not going to take the easy way out.

The building now home to Broad Bay Church was built in 1832 by the First Baptist Church, long before the formation of the Broad Bay congregation in 1983.

The original congregation was “this really amazing group of people who wanted, as one person described it, a church where you can ask questions,” Duncan said. The congregation met in a home, then at the Grange hall.

In 2002, when the First Baptist Church moved to its new building on Route 1, the approximately 30-member Broad Bay congregation bought the building at 941 Main St.

“They moved up there, and they worked hard, and they painted walls, and they scrubbed floors, and they fixed the roof, and they repaired the 1879 organ,” Duncan said.

Those early members poured themselves into making the best of their place of worship. Today’s congregation, when given the choice, decided to do the same.

“In its brilliance, I think, or in its wisdom, the congregation said, ‘Let’s pause and think for a minute and not just Band-Aid things. Let’s think about how the church can be a place for all and do what we want it to do,’” Duncan said.

So the process of dreaming began. Members of the congregation gathered together and shared visions of their dream church, visions that have fueled the capital campaign every step of the way.

A major part of the congregation’s collective dream is to become a community space. Currently, the building provides space for Alcoholics Anonymous, a garden club, a historical society, nutrition and restorative justice programs, and a few programs in conjunction with the library, but Broad Bay wants to do more.

“There’s no point in having this building just so we can worship on Sunday morning and have meetings a couple days a week,” Duncan said.

Rather, the congregation’s dreamers envision a church that is always full, with many community groups coming and going.

The co-chair of the campaign’s steering committee, Kathy Osborne, said, “We’re committed to this building. We’re going to make this building last another hundred years and make it accessible for other groups to come in and partner with us to do things that they’re passionate about.”

Fortunately for Broad Bay, it does not have to raise funds on passion and dreams alone.

In September 2016, Broad Bay was invited to apply for a grant from the National Fund for Sacred Places, a recently formed group working to restore old church buildings, “not so they can be historic artifacts, but so they can be good for something,” Duncan said.

Broad Bay received the grant because of both the building’s historical nature and the congregation’s commitment to forming relationships with community groups.

After performing a feasibility study, the organization pledged $1 for every $2 raised by Dec. 1. It will give up to $250,000.

If the church raises $500,000 and receives the full $250,000 grant, the $750,000 will go toward structural repairs and changes to fulfill the congregation’s vision.

One focus of the project will be alterations to the entry narthex. Duncan has observed that, while elements like the church’s beautiful exterior and the “help yourself shelf” outside the building give it a welcoming feel, “once you get inside it’s not so good.”

The double doors swing inward to reveal two sets of steep stairs — an entryway both confusing and potentially dangerous.

Brian Scheuzger, a church member and architect, said the hope is to replace these with “more gracious stairs, as well as a lift that has three stops [street level, sanctuary level, and lower level].”

Changes such as these will allow the church to be the “place for all” it wishes to be by ensuring “everyone, regardless of age, ability, etc., is able to walk in our front door, feel welcome, and get everywhere easily and with dignity,” Scheuzger said.

The restoration process, however, is not only about modern-day needs. Those working on the project have sought a balance between respecting the building’s history and improving it for modernity.

The church’s building committee is working with the architecture firm Barba + Wheelock. “We share a commitment that the outside should stay pretty much the same, and the building has to be usable,” Duncan said.

Newer elements will be treated in a historically sensitive manner that seeks to prevent new technology from clashing with the building’s 19th-century style.

The lift, according to Scheuzger, will have “half-height walls surrounding it, with wood trim and wood guard and handrails that will all have an appropriate period look to them that can help a modern element feel like it fits in.”

Similarly, doors built to match some of the building’s originals will open up to modern restrooms that are compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act.

These and other changes will help Broad Bay become the safe, accessible and flexible space it wishes to be, while maintaining its rich connection with the past.

Osborne said of her fellow church members, “It’s not a huge congregation, but they’re so optimistic and so socially motivated, so mission-motivated.”

She feels confident that Broad Bay will meet with success in its campaign.

“I don’t know why,” she said with a smile. “I’m just feeling very optimistic.”

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