Friday, August 31, 2012

A Tale of Two Churches

Historic Boston Inc. is conducting physical assessments of Boston’s two oldest frame church buildings: the 1804 First Church Roxbury in Roxbury’s Highland Park and the 1806 Second Congregational Church in Dorchester’s Codman Square. 

While these two sites have deep historical connections to their neighborhoods and share the quintessentially New England meetinghouse style, today they also exemplify a growing problem for older religious buildings:  no one meets there anymore.

Photo courtesy of UUUM
First Church in Roxbury dates to 1804 and is the fifth meetinghouse built on this site.  It is now under the auspices of the Unitarian Universalist Association of Boston which centers its Unitarian Universalist Urban Ministry here, a very active use of the complex’s supporting buildings for educational and social services to area children and families.  The UUUM would like to improve the historic meetinghouse to support weddings, and community lectures, concerts, and celebrations. 

The Second Congregational Church in Dorchester, also known as the Codman Church, now serves the Eastern Nazarene Church and is Codman Square’s most visible landmark.  Built in 1806, many changes and additions have been made to the church over time. Today, all religious activity of this small congregation takes place in the reception halls attached to the main church sanctuary, which has not been in use for many years and suffers from deterioration and the absence of heating systems for regular use.   The congregation is hoping to identify the proper path to putting the meetinghouse back into use as a regular year-round worship space. 

HBI worked with both buildings on capital and lighting projects in the 1990s through the Steeples Program.  However, amid changing neighborhood demographics and religious affiliations, many historic religious buildings struggle with fewer resources to operate their buildings, let alone invest in costly capital improvements and historic preservation.  HBI’s objective with the stewards of the First and Second Churches is to guide money spent toward the most urgent and achievable work. 

HBI hired architect Don Mills of the firm Mills Whittaker Architects to comprehensively assess current conditions, establish cost estimates, and prioritize repairs for both churches. While money is hard to come by for projects like these, assessments bring expert guidance to congregations so that treasures like First Church Roxbury and Second Congregational Church appear less financially burdensome and more the inspirational landmarks they were meant to be. 

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