BRUNSWICK — Three months after a fire gutted the Unitarian Universalist Church of Brunswick, the congregation has voted to tear down the structure and rebuild on Pleasant Street.
Without knowing how much the insurance settlement would be, and with only an estimate of the costs of repairing or building new, congregants voted overwhelmingly on Sept. 18 to stay in town instead of moving to Gurnet Road, where the church owns land.
The demolition is contingent on approval by the Village Review Board. Church representatives will attend the board’s Oct. 18 meeting.
Mike Heath, president of the congregation, said members decided the Pleasant Street location would best allow the church to fulfill its mission, stay close to its historic roots and provide better visibility.
He said the decision to build a new church was also based on size constraints of the old one.
According to the Rev. Sylvia Stocker, the church has 180 adult members. Sunday services 2 1/2 years ago were getting so crowded the church had to add a second service. Since the fire in June, attendance at weekly services has ballooned even more.
Stocker said more than 140 people attended the Sept. 18 service, held at Beth Israel Congregation of Bath; before the fire, attendance rarely topped 100.
“One common hope is that the (new) structure is bigger, so we can accommodate everyone in a single service,” Heath said.
Economics also played a role in the congregation’s decision. Stocker said rebuilding the church will likely be more expensive than building a new one, because of extensive roof and steeple damage. The entire back of the church would also have to be rebuilt.
Either way, the church must be reinforced before winter to withstand snow and wind, and those repairs could be costly. Any reinforcements would not be part of rebuilding the church, just extra money spent, Heath said.
He said no one from the church has met with the Village Review Board, and they are just beginning that process. They’re also working with an architect, who is expected to submit three concept designs for a new church that congregation members will vote on by the end of November.
In the meantime, the congregation is raising money for repairs and reconstruction through their website, www.uubrunswick.org/donate. So far they’ve received $27,000, and UU churches around the country have sent items like hymnals, to replace items destroyed in the fire.
Stocker said she still gets chills when she remembers standing outside the church the night of the fire, watching it burn. But she said the experience has been “a mixed blessing,” because area churches and synagogues, and the Curtis Memorial Library, have offered meeting and prayer space, enabling services to continue.
“We’re feeling very held by the community,” she said. “It’s a mix of hardship and blessing.”
Heath said the fire brought the congregation closer and gave the members a common purpose.
“It’s not all happy,” he said, “but it does draw us together.”
The damaged back of the Unitarian Universalist Church of Brunswick has been removed, and its charred remains are covered with a tarp.
The Unitarian Universalist Church of Brunswick has been boarded up since the June 6 fire. Smoke damage is visible on the roof.
The Unitarian Universalist Church of Brunswick.
A sign in front of the Unitarian Universalist Church of Brunswick informs congregation members where services are being held, and invites donations to the re-building fund.