• Downtown New Bedford festival to highlight 'immediate' needs of aging churches

    September 15, 2016

    The First Baptist Church with its 1928 addition.

    photo by: Caryn Davis

    Many people are aware of the home of Robert's Rules of Order and two other properties in historic New Bedford, Massachusetts, but they may not know that all three are in need of significant repair. So, a group of community leaders came together to host the Upper William Street Neighborhood Festival on September 24 to raise awareness about the repair needs.

    Organizers decided to make the event free in hopes of raising awareness for future fundraising campaigns to help Gallery X (a former church), First Baptist Church (a National Treasure), and First Unitarian Church. According to South Coast Today:

    "A capital campaign for the First Baptist Church Restoration will start in October. The campaign will be conducted jointly with Your Theatre, Inc., which announced an agreement to buy the building last November, through a collaborative effort with the city and WHALE. Teri Bernert, executive director of WHALE, said since that time, the Massachusetts Historical Commission has approved initial restoration plans for First Baptist, paving the way for a $250,000 state tax credit announced in July. Bernert said the total project cost could be about $1.4 million. The upcoming capital campaign will include promotion of First Baptist as the birthplace of Robert’s Rules of Order, long the gold standard for parliamentary procedures used in municipal meetings, the business world and elsewhere."

    It's wonderful to see all of the progress being made with the National Treasure and if you're in the area on September 24, be sure to stop by between Noon and 4:00 p.m. for the event!

  • New Partnership Announced for the First Baptist Church

    December 18, 2015

    It’s official! The partnership between Your Theatre, Inc. and the First Baptist congregation has been signed for the First Baptist Church.Built in 1829, this Greek Revival church in New Bedford, MA, is the place that inspired the drafting of “Robert’s Rules of Order.” Both parties signed the Purchase and Sales Agreement for the church, agreeing on a price for the property as well as a monthly rent for the congregation.

    As part of the agreement, the theater and the congregation have also established how they will share the space, stewardship responsibilities, and how they will work together.This is a huge step forward in realizing their joint vision of a restored church with dedicated space for both the congregation and the theater.The theater will rehabilitate the main sanctuary for its performance space, the lower level will have a black box theater and support services, and the wing will be used primarily by the congregation for worship, administration, and programs.

    Now that the legal framework is established, this frees Your Theatre to apply for capital funding.The Waterfront Historic Area League (WHALE) is working with the congregation and the theater on fundraising and is continuing to provide technical assistance.One grant application was submitted in early December and the project will be applying for Massachusetts State Historic Rehabilitation tax credits beginning in January.

    One hiccup in the plans is that it was discovered that the boiler for the heating system is cracked and no longer functional.This means that the building will have to go unheated and the congregation will have to relocate until this can be replaced, at an estimated cost of between $25,000 and $30,000. A new heating system is in the budget as part of the rehabilitation, but this timing is not good as the heating season has just begun.Aside from this, all systems are a go with this exciting partnership, and we look forward to seeing the refurbished spaces take shape.

  • Cornell University volunteers at the First Baptist

    July 31, 2015

    Cornell University’s preservation and planning programs organize a Work Weekend each year, where students, faculty, and alums select a preservation project to donate a weekend’s worth of labor and materials. This year we were extremely fortunate that they chose the First Baptist Church. From April 17-20th, a group of about 30 Cornell University students, faculty, and alums, along with WHALE staff, board members, and local craftspeople, spent the weekend packing weeks of work into just a few days. They scraped, repaired, and primed all of the doors, including the huge entrance doors, repaired, reglazed, and primed all of the windows on the ground floor, created photo murals on plywood to mount inside the ground floor windows to provide security and share historic images of the building and people associated with the church, and repaired the plaster in the entrance vestibule. This work provided a huge boost to the church and a meaningful and fun experience for all involved.

  • Road Trip to Cambridge for Groups from New Bedford

    May 15, 2015

    On February 28, the National Trust held a day-long community exchange in Cambridge between the Old Cambridge Baptist Church and the Jose Mateo Ballet Theatre in Cambridge and the First Baptist Church and Your Theatre in New Bedford. Both congregations have or have had similar challenges in finding a way to maintain their large buildings with relatively small number of parishioners. Too often this leads to the sale of historic church buildings. Some are demolished, but even when they are reused and the building is retained, the loss of a historic church can also mean the loss of the heart of a community, a community meeting place, and a place of shared memories. Innovation is the key to keeping these spaces alive.

    Since 2000, The Old Cambridge Baptist Church has partnered with the Jose Mateo Ballet Theatre, sharing the church space and the cost of maintaining the church. Performances and ballet classes take place in the “Sanctuary Theatre,” which is the original sanctuary and is still used for worship on Sundays. Four studios are in beautiful and inspiring spaces that cannot but enhance the art that is created there. All changes to the building are reversible. The Church retains ownership of the property, but the Ballet Theatre has a 40-year lease. Those involved say it’s like a marriage--"There are good times and bad times.” With a common goal of “Nurturing the soul of humanity,” this art and church collaboration will have a long and fruitful marriage.

    The groups from New Bedford are looking to create a similar partnership and it was valuable to speak with the two organizations that have been making a shared use work for almost fifteen years. The discussion between the two churches and the theatre groups at the exchange involved many topics, including leases, architecture, compromises over spaces, logistics, challenges, successes, and the power of having a vision. The pastor and other congregants from the First Baptist Church in New Bedford and Your Theatre members went home from the exchange with a new commitment and innovative ideas for their proposed partnership.

  • Introducing the First Baptist Church

    April 2, 2015

    My name is Rebecca Harris and I am a field officer in the Boston Field Office. I am leading the team at the National Trust that is working in partnership with the Waterfront Historic Area League (WHALE) and the City of New Bedford to define a new future for the First Baptist Church. The current congregation is small and they are passionate about caring for their beautiful building that has been an active home for congregations since 1829. Like so many congregations around the country, they face the financial challenge of caring for a large building. As a result, they are exploring the idea of creating a partnership with a local community theater group, Your Theatre, Inc., that would allow both groups to call the church home. This partnership would allow for the rehabiltation of the church, provide for ongoing maintenance, establish a permanent downtown location for the theatre, and bring new vitality to the building. The National Trust is helping by providing legal assistance related to the partnership, technical assistance for the rehabilitation, and by matching the congregation and theatre group up with organizations who have accomplished similar goals. We are also capturing the lessons learned throughout the process in order to share them with other groups across the country.

All 5 updates

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