Saturday May 19, 2012

SALEM, Mass. (AP) -- One of the oldest Protestant churches in North America has reopened after a $1.8 million renovation.

The First Church in Salem, Unitarian, was founded in 1629, and hosted historically important preachers including Roger Williams and William Brantley.

But the building needed to be restored and updated. Among the changes is a new wheelchair-accessible main entrance with a Gothic arch, which leads to a new elevator.

The pastor, the Rev. Jeff Barz-Snell, told The Salem News ( that improving accessibility and opening up the church to the broader community were the main reasons the church took on the project.

The church, with a congregation of about 170, raised the money in part with a controversial decision to selling church silver. It also relied on donations and matching funds from its endowment.