REAL ESTATE

Old Ship Member Claims To Have Been Silenced After Expressing Concerns About Plans To Sell Parish House

By Kristen Arute, Hingham Current Staff; October 7, 2020
Hingham Current News File Photo / Kristen Arute

A parishioner at Old Ship Church sent an email to fellow members, on the heels of two virtual meetings held by the church, to express concerns about the proposed sale of the Parish House property at 107 Main Street and to encourage them to attend the Special Parish Meeting via Zoom on October 13th and vote against the proposal.

 

Old Ship Church has placed two articles on their warrant. One would allow the church to negotiate a purchase and sale agreement with a developer for part of the property, and the other would allow the church to negotiate a purchase and sale agreement with the Hingham Affordable Housing Trust for the remainder of the property. 

 

The following is the email in its entirety. The identity of the individual has been removed.

 

Dear Fellow Old Ship Parishioners, 

 

I grew up in Hingham and have attended Old Ship Church since I was fourteen years old.  I am an Old Ship Church member (three generations of my family are members).  I am reaching out to you in the wake of our Parish zoom meetings. I feel strongly that two minutes was not adequate time for any of us to articulate our concerns.

 

Although many of us are weary, worried, and fearful of the future and of retaliation, I encourage you to stand strong and Vote To Not Sell any part of the Old Ship Parish Property at 107 Main Street. Please Speak Up and Out Now and Uphold The October 2019 in-person parish-wide vote to restore, revive and revitalize our Old Ship Parish House and community. 

We parishioners who voted last October 2019 to take the Parish House off the Market and restore it are the clear overwhelming majority (44 to stay/not sell versus only 23 to sell). 

 

A small group in leadership positions have for the past year been ignoring our democratic choice and blocking any attempts to fundraise and work on the building and grounds. And now we find these leaders -instead of working on the building and grounds restoration- have been working with a developer to attempt to overturn our vote, and turn the Parish House Property into another large scale housing development. 

 

A process which will: 

  • override local historic district zoning protections for Bachelor’s Row,

  • undo long standing conservation and preservation restrictions at the municipal, state and federal level for the Meeting House  property, 

  • build multiple large scale housing developments on the 107 Main Street Parish House property,

  • build an 11,000 foot 3-storey structure and parking lot with multiple-storey (sic) high retaining walls on 90 Main Street next to the Old Ship Meeting House,

  • cut down all the trees (on both properties) in their path -some of which are hundreds of years old,

  • end forever the precious beautiful green spaces on both properties,

  • build retaining walls within feet of children’s graves in the Old Ship Church’s historic cemetery, 

  • excavate an area that is well known as being part of the historical burial ground surrounding the meeting house, and when located disinterring people and moving them,

  • all to build new office space...and the list of truly troubling plans, actions and impacts goes on and on

 

And all without telling the neighbors. Banning their voices, dismissing their very valid concerns and then prohibiting us as Parishioners and community members from even talking to them. 

 

How can this be happening? Is it even legal? Is it moral? Is this how a Church should act towards its own members and towards its neighbors?  The answer is No.

 

There are many of us who feel absolutely heartsick about this - about What is happening and How it is happening. People are aghast, both inside and outside the Church. 

 

And know this fellow Old Ship Parishioners, hundreds of fellow community members from across the town, state, country and even outside the U.S. are standing ready to help; with friendship, solidarity, love, respect, skills (technical, professional, administrative and legal), and yes funding!  They have for years repeatedly offered help to our church leadership, but have been rebuffed, ignored and even maligned. For how long and how often has our church leadership turned away help and resources to restore this building? I have often asked this over the past year and a half, and the answers I have received are truly sobering. 

 

Given what I have seen and heard I cannot stay silent anymore. I mention silence because Church Leadership has repeatedly and continually tried to silence many of us parishioners. They ignore us, and tell us we can not speak to each other or to anyone outside the church. I was told this past week when I requested to look over the developer’s documents in the binder at the Parish House that those who want to sell are very angry and that I might “get hurt” if I continue to speak out against selling the Parish House and in favor of restoring it. 

 

When I “signed the book” I thought I was joining a progressive Unitarian church in the United States of America in the 21st Century; a welcoming community, tolerant of diverse beliefs and opinions. I did not know, nor was it written anywhere that I was forfeiting my constitutional rights to free speech and association in signing that book and in becoming a member of the Old Ship Church. And I did not know that in wishing to not sell my spiritual home I ran the risk of being hurt by very angry people from my own congregation. This is still a church which at least officially on Sundays professes tolerance and to be welcoming and open to all. 

 

I recognize all this has been long and exhausting, but it is critical for those of us who are parishioners to show up for the meeting on October 13th and vote. No person, board, religious leader or institution should ever make you feel like your voice does not matter. As Unitarians we are committed to speaking Truth to Power and to speaking for those who cannot speak for themselves: the earth below our feet, the trees that give us shade and cleanse our air, and green spaces, however small, wherever they may be.  Moreover, we have a responsibility to the welfare of our neighbors -both living and dead- who look on in fear with no voice or power.  

 

I am not above begging, so today I beg each and every one of you:

On October 13 at 6:30 p.m. please Vote No on both Warrant Articles - to Not Sell Any Part of 107 Main Street. And then join me - as you did last October 2019- to begin fundraising and restoration, working with the over 430 neighbors who wish to help us, and the local organizations - both private and public-  that have already come forward with offers of funding, partnerships and in-kind support. 

 

Together we can restore, revive and revitalize the Old Ship Parish House and make this place a beautiful space where finally everyone is truly Welcome. 

Thank you and have a blessed day.

Signed,

Old Ship Church parishioner

Kristen Arute can be reached at kristen@hinghamcurrent.com.