StJB in Focus: Leap of Faith Campus Reconfiguration

There are many exciting and challenging changes at St John the Baptist (StJB) regarding our campus and parish directions. For more than 140 years, the ‘little white church on the hill’ has been a spiritual retreat and beacon for the community. Added to the National Registry of Historic Places in 1984, our church is our well-maintained pride and joy. However, St John’s other two parish buildings – the Parish Hall and Rectory -- have become an increasing burden to operate and maintain. With disrepair, water/leakage issues, decrepit roof, and prohibitive entry/access in the Parish Hall; and excessive heating/operating costs in both buildings, these structures no longer meet our needs. Further, they physically, financially and spiritually drain us; they rob or detract us from God’s mission for StJB. 

A candid property evaluation was done at St John the Baptist early this fall, led by StJB Interim Rector, Janet Lombardo, our vestry team, and the NH Diocese Canon for Mission Resources, Benge Ambrogi. After careful consideration in mid-October, St John’s dedicated vestry approved a full campus reconfiguration, including: 1) tear down the parish hall; 2) sell the rectory (separate lot), which will help fund; 3) build a new energy efficient, handicapped accessible building attached to the church through the chapel.  The new proposed modular addition will have space for community dinners/events, a modern attached kitchen, office space, and more. 

“I envision a patio to hold coffee hour looking at our beautiful stone altar and cross,” enthusiastically shared Pastor Janet, “I believe this new campus will bring new life and vitality to our church community.”

In a crucial meeting with Bishop Rob Hirschfeld and Canon for Transition, the Rev. Gail Avery, held in StJB’s sanctuary on November, 14, 2018, the proposed campus changes were brought before the congregation for discussion. It was a well-attended, 90-minute highly interactive meeting with 30+ parishioners, including vestry, Pastor Janet and Diocese leadership. While the concept was eagerly embraced by nearly all, some questions and concerns were brought up regarding logistics, timing, communication and congregational buy-in. 

Most parishioners voiced support for the vestry’s decision. They welcomed the property re-formation to reinvigorate and bring the parish together. It would allow StJB to refocus our energy and efforts away fromthe increasing burdens of exhausting and expensive real estate maintenance and more towardGod’s mission of outreach and community service. It can help us re-envision our renewed common mission, refine our direction, and help entice a new minister and parishioners. 

“This is an imperative and exciting opportunity for St John the Baptist,” proclaimed Dave Guinta, StJB vestry and building committee member. “It gives us a fresh look at our church to best meet our current and future physical structure needs and vastly reduces our time, energy, and operational costs in our buildings.”  Guinta concluded, “Far more importantly, it will help us refocus our mission, prepare and better attract a new rector, and build our vitality and sustainability as a parish.”

A few heartfelt tears and concerns were also shared. Primarily, these involved the potential immediate sale or loss of the Rectory (bathroom, coffee hour, meeting/office space), which would impact our ability to conduct Sunday services in our beloved sanctuary this winter/spring. Despite recent service announcements and coffee hour discussions, several people heard these proposals for the first time; unfortunately, they felt disconnected or overlooked. StJB’s ‘grieving process’ was also acknowledged as many are still reeling from the loss of Reverend Sue and rapid changes in the last 6 months. We need to communicate better, not just about our church buildings, but rather building up our church. As cherished parishioners, Donna Marie Currier and Donna Nelson, articulately reminded us, we need to make the time to process, heal, and “care and nurture each other.” 

While the sale of the Rectory is intended to provide a good funding start for the new addition, a call for parishioner pledge support will be needed and other funding options will be fully investigated. There is also the challenge of more people power needed to fill several open St John’s vestry positions and form a new building committee, which will be the topic of the next StJB In Focus 1.3. 

Several affirmations also focused on key StJB transitional concerns. First, Bishop Rob recognized St. John the Baptist as a “full parish” with a “dedicated group of church people;” he said there is “no interest or intent on closing this church.” Canon Gail noted the search for a “half-time priest will likely draw some one from the New England area; thankfully, the NH Diocese has a “deep bench” with several good and local supply priests, which will be explored in the coming months. Unexpectedly, Pastor Janet also offered her strong recommendation to “keep two morning services (8 am Rite I & 10 am Rite II),” which she believes is “very important to this church.”  

Conceptually, the congregation strongly supports the three-part campus reconfiguration, as approved by vestry. Given our Parish Hall is too drafty/costly to heat and entirely closes in winters, no one had much dispute of part one: tearing down the Parish Hall this fall to immediately save money and reduce hassles. This will occur after logistics are properly taken care of (stored, distributed, salvaged or tossed; please contact Tina Firicano if you want anything). Initially, there will not be space for the StJB thrift shop, but options for this mission exist through partnering or further expansion. The big ‘compromise’ to ‘minimize disruption and trauma’ was to slow down part two: delay the sale (closing and transfer) of the Rectory until at least mid-April. This would ensure the continuity of our services in our church sanctuary, allow more project time, and provide a smoother transition to part three: build a new, easy access modular addition off the church chapel. Project support was confirmed at the end of the meeting by a vast majority show-of-hands vote, urged by respected parish leader, Dave Moberg.

Bishop Rob concluded and blessed the meeting with a final prayer of guidance, where he praised St John’s “courage” in embracing this bold new campus vision and affirmed the NH Diocese’s full support. A new addition will allow StJB to more easily gather and enjoy fellowship and food, better integrate our outdoor space, and re-orient/expand our parking. Most importantly, it will free us from the overwhelming burdens of our two current real estate albatrosses and allow us to refocus efforts on God’s mission for us. There is much hard work ahead and our path forward may not be entirely clear or easy, but it is a leap of faithwe take together. And just perhaps…if we build it, they will come.