Old Ship Members To Vote On Future Of Parish House
By Kristen Arute, Hingham Current Staff; October 13, 2020
Hingham Current file photo / Kristen Arute
In advance of tonight's vote by Old Ship Church, a vote that could lead to dramatic changes in the Bachelors Row/Pear Tree Hill District of Downtown Hingham, Reverend Ken Read-Brown and the Board of Trustees issued individual statements to parishioners by email. Both began by addressing financial struggles the church has had over the years and suggested that maintaining the Parish House in particular has been and would continue to be cost-prohibitive.
"As you all know, here at Old Ship we’ve been struggling with the finances of maintaining the Parish House for a number of years," said Read-Brown. "We have had many parish conversations about various proposals for staying or selling… and it has been exhausting for many of us." Janet Asnes, president of the Trustees echoed this sentiment and said in her email that for the past year they have been gathering "as much information as possible" on the cost to repair and renovate the Parish House.
However, some parishioners say that this is inaccurate. After parishioners voted in October 2019 in a vote of 44 to 23 against allowing the Trustees to engage in negotiations with a developer and instead to work on restoring the Parish House, the church held a "Next Steps Weekend" to continue discussing the matter. Two additional meetings were ultimately held over the summer, and "a solid list of the work and associated costs that needs to be done in order to repair and renovate the Parish House" was provided. However, apart from one quote to have Rhino Shield paint the building - something that would not have been allowed given the historical nature of the district - no formal bids for work were presented by the Trustees. In addition, several sources have revealed that offers for support - including one offer of $350,000 from an anonymous donor - have consistently been refused by the Trustees.
The Parish House has been on and off the market for many years. The church has hoped to sell and use the proceeds to construct a new Parish House next to the existing Meeting House. "Naturally we wish we could turn our attention more wholeheartedly to the ministries of our congregation that feel closer to our purpose than taking care of old buildings," said Read-Brown in his email. "Nourishing the spirit, educating our minds and hearts, nurturing our Old Ship community, and reaching out to serve others, to be part of creating a more just and peaceful world."
After time was requested by a developer to conduct a feasibility study, the Trustees received a formal offer. "A few weeks ago we received a proposal from Atlantic Development to buy the Parish House at 107 Main Street and build a new one next to the Meeting House," said Asnes in her email. "The Board believes that we, as a congregation, now have enough information to make an informed decision about how to proceed. And so, we are asking all voting members to come to a meeting this week so that we may practice our belief in the democratic process by discussing, deliberating, and voting on our next step."
Hingham-based Atlantic Development faced scrutiny several years ago when the company attempted to purchase a portion of a Boy Scouts of America camp on Nantucket known as Camp Richard. Those opposing the sale called it a "land grab" and fought to have it preserved as open space. A Superior Court judge ultimately ruled to bar the sale and determined that the land should forever remain a "campsite for the scouts of Nantucket." It is unclear what their plans are for the property or if the Parish House would be preserved; however, there has been some discussion about the possibility of constructing condominiums and creating an overlay district through a zoning bylaw change. That would require a vote at Town Meeting. According to sources, a proposal could potentially be presented at Special Town Meeting in November.
The Special Parish Meeting will be held tonight, Tuesday, October 13th, at 6:30 p.m. Two Articles will be considered and voted on. One would grant authority to the Board of Trustees to negotiate with Atlantic Development for the purchase of the Parish House, and the other would authorize the Trustees to negotiate with the Town of Hingham for the purchase of land at the back of the property which would be used to expand the Lincoln School Apartments senior housing. If the Articles pass, another vote would soon be taken to vote on the actual sales.
Asnes thanked parishioners "for being part of this momentous decision for Old Ship," and Read-Brown offered words of encouragement. "My hope and expectation is that we can all bring our best selves to these meetings and conversations, as well as to conversations with neighbors who have an understandable interest in all this," he said. "For we are a beloved community, never perfect, sometimes inadvertently causing hurt feelings, but always seeking to live and speak according to our better angels. May it long be so."