FCN Launches Capital Campaign to Boost Community Engagement and Partnerships
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Judith A. Dixon
Faith in Our Future Capital Campaign
First Church Natick (First Congregational Church)
FCN Launches Capital Campaign to Boost Community Engagement and Partnerships
Natick, Mass. – October 3, 2021 – First Church Natick (FCN) kicked off its Faith in Our Future Capital Campaign on Sunday with the goal of raising $750,000 toward a $1.5 million restoration and renewal project. The congregation plans to refurbish the building’s 1876 steeple and refresh indoor spaces to promote greater programmatic versatility and accessibility. Church leadership hopes the updates and enhancements will lead to increased use of the building’s large worship space and fellowship hall, especially for performance, educational, civic and social events in the community. The balance of the project costs will be offset by a refinance of the church’s mortgage and a withdrawal from the church’s endowment fund.
While work to preserve the safety and integrity of the church steeple was begun early last spring in advance of fundraising, the bulk of the improvements will center on the second-floor sanctuary, the church’s large worship space. A design team, composed of 13 church members and architect Ann Vivian of GVV Architects, plans for updated lighting, enhanced audio/visual capabilities and improved internet connectivity for virtual programming. New flooring in the space will improve the sanctuary’s acoustics. A redesign of the chancel, or raised stage area, will create improved accessibility for program participants and leaders alike.
FCN Interim Pastor Jonathan New is excited about the overall accessibility that the combined sanctuary efforts will create. He says new lighting, fresh flooring, upgraded sound and ramps for the chancel “will make the sanctuary much more useable and also strongly convey the kind of welcome and inclusion that we value as a congregation, specifically for persons who are mobility-impaired. This work will allow us to live into our full embrace of them as worshipers and worship leaders to make that aspect of church life as available to them as anyone. That’s what this congregation has aspired to do and to be with regards to different kinds of people whom the church has historically forgotten or sometimes consciously omitted.” Doug Hanna, Co-Chair of the Capital Campaign and 26-year church member agrees. He says the church is committed to “making it so that people of any ability can fully participate in any activity either conducted by the church or by groups that are using the space.”
“I really see it as an extension of our Open & Affirming Covenant,” Hanna said, citing the pledge the FCN congregation took in 2003 to include LGBTQ+ people into every facet of church life, from student to congregant to youth educator to worship leader. “We learned during our discernment process at that time that it wasn’t enough to say we welcome gay, lesbian and transgender people. We have to go out of our way to make our inclusion extravagantly visible to that community because they have a history of having been marginalized or left out completely. With these renovations, I really see us continuing to live out that promise and expanding our mission to make our space useable and accessible to all.”
The design team is also researching kitchen improvements that will make that space more user-friendly for cooks and caterers supporting events in the fellowship hall.
FCN has a long history of hosting varied programs in its building at the crossroads of Natick’s town center. Most recently, the ACHIEVE Program of the Natick Public Schools has taken up residence at FCN to implement its post-secondary transition program for young adults with special needs. The program seeks to foster independence and provide vocational training and workforce entry opportunities. Hanna said FCN’s location offered advantages to ACHIEVE, which was formerly housed at the old East Natick School. “Two of the things they’re interested in are partnering with other downtown organizations for work assignments for the students and also potentially developing some sort of small retail outlet using our facility for that, so our location is key for both of those activities.”
Prior to ACHIEVE’s relocation to FCN, the church operated an on-site preschool for the wider Natick community in its classroom spaces. The school was a pioneer in early education and care in the MetroWest area when it opened 50 years ago. It closed in the spring of 2020 with the onset of the COVID pandemic. Church leadership opted not to reopen the school believing that the abundance of preschool options now available in the area indicated that the church’s mission to respond to a need for child care had been fulfilled. Pastor 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 preschool closure for interested groups who might find a downtown location advantageous.
Past building use 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 its graduation in FCN’s sanctuary for the past 85 years. (Graduations in 2020 and 2021 were virtual and outdoors respectively due to COVID safety protocols.) Voices of MetroWest, a community chorus based in Framingham, used the church intermittently for both rehearsals and performances over the span of ten years from 2008 to 2018. More recently, FCN has partnered with human service organizations like Alcoholics Anonymous (AA), Manic Depressive and Depressive Association of Natick (MDDA) and Family Promise Metrowest to host support groups and to meet the housing needs of local homeless families.
The congregation hopes other community groups will seize opportunities for holding a variety of programs and performances at First Church Natick upon completion of its planned projects. “We certainly look forward to hosting performance events,” Hanna said. “We’re right in the middle of Natick’s Cultural Arts District. I also think our spaces will be conducive to public speaking and lectures, short-term exhibitions of visual works, even private social events in our fellowship hall with the updates coming to our kitchen.”
The church leadership has authorized a small task force to draft use guidelines that will help to set fees for outside groups who want to use space once renovations are complete. Hanna said that while commercial groups might pay market value to rent space at the church for programs and events, the church is considering a sliding scale—from reduced rates to free use—for those nonprofit organizations who are missionally aligned with the church’s priorities. “These could include activities focused on social justice, equity, inclusion, or the environment,” he said.
In the Congregational tradition, the FCN church building is owned and maintained by the body of its members. “Local congregations are at the center of power and determine everything about their church life, including worship, belief, how the church will serve the community as well as finances and facilities,” Pastor New explained. “There is no mother church from whom local churches receive funding.” The last capital campaign at FCN took place in 1998 and funded the construction of an elevator to improve accessibility to the second-floor sanctuary. It also provided a new entrance to consolidated offices on the first floor and added classroom space on the second floor. All of those changes had a focus on improving access and service to the community, which are cornerstones in the church’s mission.
Through its 2021capital campaign, FCN seeks to preserve its rich history while ushering its building into a vibrant future of community engagement. “We love all of our gorgeous Victorian architecture and the way it looks on the outside,” said Hanna. “But we don’t want people to think we’re Victorian on the inside. Even though we want to preserve the character of the space, we want to do everything we can to make it useable in the 21st century.”
FCN’s Faith in Our Future Capital Campaign will include visits to about 100 member households and direct outreach to key community stakeholders. It will conclude in November with a culminating celebration at the church. Work on the interior projects is likely to begin in summer of 2022. Community members who would like to contribute to the campaign or inquire about the use of space at FCN may contact the church office at: firstname.lastname@example.org or (508) 653-0971.