By Tina Comeau
There are changes coming to Zion United Baptist Church as it struggles with a smaller congregation amid mounting costs to maintain the Parade Street building.
By the end of this month staff at the church will be laid off. This includes Pastor Brian Wallace, an office employee, two janitors and the organist and choir director. The layoffs follow a decision of church members to vacate the building after Dec. 31.
The church will use interim ministers for church services in the building until then. Afterwards it will most likely look at renting space, preferably somewhere in the central part of town. As well, the church may also look at selling its parsonage.
Charles Jess, the secretary of Zion’s board of trustees, says they have no choice but to leave the building at the end of this year.
“A structural engineer said if we want to stay we have to do major work, you’re up into very large dollars,” says Jess. “The whole building needs a million dollars or more worth of work just to bring it up to passing standards.”
Jess says they can’t afford to pay for the upkeep of the church.
So they have to make choices.
“You have the building but the more valuable asset in a church is the people. So we’re trying to keep the people together going through this tough time,” he says. “You can build a building, but try to build a group of people into a church today.”
The church has a membership slightly in excess of 100, but at Sunday morning services there are less than 50 people.
Jess says they have offered the church to the town if it would be interested in obtaining it through the municipal heritage act.
The trustees and the congregation hope eventually the church won’t have to be demolished, although that is a possibility.
“The word is out there if anyone wants to come forth to take the church, but realize what you’re taking on,” Jess says. “Demolishing it is the last thing we want to do. There is not a person, including myself, that wants to see that building come down. There would be a lot of tears.”