NATICK – First Church Natick recently launched their Faith in Our Future fundraising campaign to raise $ 750,000 for a $ 1.5 million restoration and renewal project.
The congregation plans to renovate the bell tower of the 1876 building and refresh the interior spaces to promote the versatility and accessibility of the programs. Church leaders hope the updates and improvements will lead to increased use of the building’s large worship space and communion hall, especially for performances, educational, civic and social events in the community. . The remaining project costs will be offset by a refinancing of the church mortgage and a withdrawal from the church endowment fund.
While work to preserve the safety and integrity of the church steeple began in early last spring ahead of fundraising, the bulk of the improvements will focus on the second-story shrine, the large space of church worship. A design team, made up of 13 church members and architect Ann Vivian of GVV Architects, plans updated lighting, improved audiovisual capabilities and improved internet connectivity for virtual programming. New flooring in the space will improve the acoustics of the sanctuary. A redesign of the choir, or the raised stage, will improve accessibility for both program participants and facilitators.
Interim Pastor FCN Jonathan New is excited about the overall accessibility that the combined efforts of the sanctuary will create. He says that new lighting, new flooring, improved sound and ramps for the choir “will make the shrine much more usable and also strongly convey the kind of welcome and inclusion we value as a congregation. especially for those with limited mobility, and this work will allow us to live fully with them as worshipers and worship leaders in order to make this aspect of church life as accessible to anyone as anyone. This is what this congregation has aspired to do and be with respect to different types of people that the church has historically forgotten or sometimes consciously omitted.
Doug Hanna, fundraising co-chair and church member for 26 years agrees. He says the church is committed to “ensuring that people of all abilities can participate fully in any activity carried out by the church or by groups that use the space.”
“I really see it as an extension of our commitment to openness and assertiveness,” Hanna said, citing the commitment made by the FCN congregation in 2003 to include LGBTQ + people in all facets of life. the church, from the student to the congregation, including the youth educator and the cult leader. “We learned in our discernment process at that time that it was not enough to say that we welcome gays, lesbians and transgender people. We must do everything possible to make our inclusion extravagantly visible to this community because it has a history of being marginalized or completely excluded. With these renovations, I can really see us continuing to deliver on that promise and expanding our mission of making our space usable and accessible to everyone.
The design team is also researching kitchen upgrades that will make this space more user-friendly for cooks and caterers supporting events in the Exchange Hall.
FCN is used to hosting various programs in its building at the crossroads of downtown Natick. More recently, the ACHIEVE public schools program Natick took up residence at FCN to implement its post-secondary transition program for young adults with special needs. The program aims to promote independence and provide opportunities for vocational training and entry into the labor market. Hanna said FCN’s location provided benefits to ACHIEVE, which was previously housed at the former East Natick School.
“Two of the things they are interested in are partnering with other downtown organizations for student work assignments and the potential development of some sort of small outlet using our facilities for this, so our location is essential for both activities. Hanna said.
Prior to ACHIEVE’s move to FCN, the church operated an on-site preschool for the wider Natick community in its classrooms. The school was a pioneer in early childhood education and care in the Western Metropolitan area when it opened 50 years ago. It closed in the spring of 2020 with the onset of the COVID pandemic. Church leaders chose not to reopen the school, believing that the abundance of preschool options now available in the area indicated that the church’s mission to meet a child care need had been fulfilled. New pointed out that even with the launch of the ACHIEVE program in the church building on school days, there are still opportunities for shared and dedicated spaces left empty by the kindergarten closure for interested groups who could find an advantageous downtown location.
Past use of buildings at FCN has also included other community partnerships. The Walnut Hill School for the Arts, an independent boarding and day school in Natick, has hosted his graduation at FCN Sanctuary for the past 85 years. (Graduation ceremonies in 2020 and 2021 were virtual and off-site respectively due to COVID security protocols.) Voices of MetroWest, a Framingham-based community choir, has used the church intermittently for rehearsals and performances over a ten-year period, from 2008 to 2018. More recently, FCN has partnered with social service organizations such as Alcoholics Anonymous, Natick’s Manic Depressive Association and Family Promise Metrowest to host groups of support and meet the housing needs of local homeless families.
The congregation hopes other community groups will seize the opportunities to host a variety of programs and performances at First Church Natick once the planned projects are completed.
“We are definitely looking forward to hosting performance events,” Hanna said. “We are right in the middle of Natick’s cultural arts district. I also think our spaces will be suitable for lectures and public speaking, short term visual art exhibitions, or even private social events in our communion room with updates coming to our kitchen. .
Church leadership has authorized a small task force to draft usage guidelines that will help set fees for outside groups who wish to use the space after renovations are complete. Hanna said that while business groups could pay market value to rent space in the church for programs and events, the church is considering a sliding scale – from reduced rates to free use – for organizations. nonprofits that are mission aligned with church priorities. “These could include activities focused on social justice, equity, inclusion or the environment,” he said.
In the tradition of the Congregation, the FCN church building is owned and maintained by the body of its members.
“Local congregations are the center of power and determine everything about the life of their church, including worship, belief, how the church will serve the community, and finances and facilities,” New said. “There is no mother church from which local churches receive funds. ”
The last FCN fundraising campaign took place in 1998 and funded the construction of an elevator to improve accessibility to the sanctuary on the second floor. It also provided a new entrance to the consolidated offices on the first floor and added classroom space on the second floor. All of these changes have focused on improving access and service to the community, which are cornerstones of the church’s mission.
Through its 2021 fundraising campaign, FCN seeks to preserve its history while inaugurating its construction into a future of community engagement.
“We love all of our beautiful Victorian architecture and its outward appearance,” Hanna said. “But we don’t want people to think we’re Victorians on the inside. While we want to preserve the character of the space, we want to do everything to make it usable in the 21st century.
FCN’s Faith in Our Future fundraising campaign will include visits to approximately 100 member households and direct contact with key community stakeholders. It will end in November with a culminating celebration at the church. Work on the interior projects is expected to begin in the summer of 2022.
For community members who would like to contribute to the campaign or inquire about the use of space at FCN, contact the church office at 508-653-0971 or [email protected]