Thursday April 1, 2010

NORTH ADAMS - A Protestant church prominently located in the city's downtown has joined the growing ranks of religious properties being put up for sale.

The First United Methodist Church of North Adams, which sits on the corner of North Church and East Main streets, was recently listed by Berkshire Realty and Management for $399,999.

"The church building is much larger than the congregation can support at this time," Rev. Kim Kie, pastor of the First United Methodist Church, said Wednesday. "The cost of maintaining and heating the building is just too high. Our congregation wants to be in the community, answering God's call to be in mission and delivering his word."

Like many denominations around the country, the local Methodist congregation has seen a drop in its numbers.

"It's happening regionally and nationally," she said. "Mainline Protestant churches have undergone change in both the number of people identifying themselves as members of a particular denomination and in the number of people in attendance each week."

The decision to sell the 81-yearold stone and wood-frame church was initiated and finalized by the congregation's members, she said.

The Methodist congregation has been renting space from the First Congregationalist Church across the street since December 2008.

"When the decision was made to move to space at the Congregational Church, it was done so with the knowledge that it would mean we would sell the building in the future," Kie said. " Instead of making all the changes at once, we did it very slowly. We've allowed for a grieving process around the changes to take place. It's a very emotional decision."

Unlike the process seen with the closings and mergers of several Roman Catholic parishes, the discussion of closing the Methodist church began locally.

"When the decision was made, we informed our hierarchy [the New England Conference of United Methodists Churches] about that we were selling the church," she said. "They ensure that we've investigated and chosen the solution that best serves our congregants and offers supports. It's worked well not to have the decisions handed down, but to hand them up. However, it's still hard."

Kie added, "We're also in a very intentional discussion with the First United Methodist Church of Williamstown about a merger in our future. A merger of the two congregations is looking beneficial to both communities."

The two congregations already worship together once a month, alternating between North Adams and Williamstown.

" Right now, we're discussing where the best home would be for the new congregation," she said. "A merger is not unlike a marriage - we're discussing if a new home would be appropriate."

The church joins several other city locations on the market, including the former Lady of Incarnation Shrine at 1288 Massachusetts Ave., which is being offered by its owner, William E. Girard, after plans for the former church, including a daycare center at the site, were shot down by the city.

The Roman Catholic Diocese of Springfield is selling the former St. Francis of Assisi church and rectory buildings at the intersection of Eagle and Union streets, as well as the former Our Lady of Mercy Church in the city's West End.

Additionally, the city is selling the former Notre Dame Church and accompanying school off East Main Street.

" I'm not surprised that the church has been listed," Mayor Richard J. Alcombright said on Wednesday. "I know there has been a tremendous decline among the Protestant population, like the decline seen by everyone else. When I was a kid, the city had about 20,000 people in it, the majority of whom were churchgoing families. Today it just isn't the same - there's less people in the community and less who attend church or affiliate themselves with a particular church."

He said the city would continue to "do everything in its power to preserve the city's churches and steeples."

" However, we've learned the hard way with the Notre Dame property that the city can't buy churches to preserve them," Alcombright said. " My biggest fear is that someone is going to buy the St. Francis property for commercial purposes and take a wrecking ball to it. The city will fight as hard as it can to prevent something like that from happening."