Church's $1.1M Project Tied to Town's 375th Anniversary

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By Patrick Cronin

The Hampton Union, Tuesday, December 4, 2012

[The following article is courtesy of the Hampton Union and Seacoast Online.]

Rev. Deborah Knolton, third from left, looks on as associate conference minister Rev. Richard Slater, center, gives thanks before the start of the groundbreaking ceremony at the First Congregational Church in Hampton on Sunday.
[Cheryl Senter photo]

HAMPTON -- After singing a verse from the biblical song "The Wise Man Built His House," several shovels went into the ground Sunday, signaling the start of a $1.1 million renovation project at the First Congregational Church in Hampton.

"We have been talking about this for several years but now it feels real," said Rev. Deborah Knowlton, who said the project was "commissioned by the spirit of God."

The official groundbreaking ceremony took place in front of the church at 127 Winnacunnet Road after Sunday morning's service. The million-dollar project includes constructing new Sunday school classrooms and adding accessibility to the building, which dates back to around the 1840s. The goal is to complete the project to coincide with the church and town's 375th anniversary.

Knowlton said the last major renovation done at the church was over 50 years ago and one family donated money to build an addition. But this time, she said, everyone played a part in raising the money.

"Everybody has taken responsibility in making it better, more accessible and welcoming for people of all ages and stages of faith," Knowlton said.

David Weatherby, co-chairman of the building fundraising committee, said they started talks about doing renovations in 2006.

Originally, the group put together a wish list of the work they would like to see done totaling $2.2 million. Realizing that fundraising goal may be out of reach, they scaled the list down to a figure that was manageable.

Weatherby said they kicked off fundraising efforts in January of 2012 and by the end of June they had already collected $852,000 in pledges.

Weatherby said the project is long over due. "Much of the building hasn't been touched in 50 years except for cosmetics," said Weatherby.

Weatherby said the project calls for making the church more accessible by having a central corridor beginning at the ramped chapel entrance and ending near the current church office. It would connect the church, chapel, God's Baby Closet, classrooms, the church office and the nursery. An elevator would be adjacent to the corridor.

"We want to make it more accessible, not just for the church but for the community," said Weatherby, who noted many organizations use the church.

The plan also includes bringing back three classrooms that were removed in the basement due to problems with moisture and mold. Weatherby said the new classroom will aid their Sunday school program, where they hope to attract new families into the parish.

Liz Webster said the fundraising efforts for the project brought the church closer together. A year ago some said the campaign was impossible but with a little faith, she said their vision finally becoming a reality.

"It's exciting for me, not just about the amount of money raised, but the effort that went into it," Webster said. "We came so close to our goal and the money we did raise is going to take care of the needs of the church."

Children of the church were also excited about the project, many wearing plastic hard hats during the ceremony. Prior to the ceremony, they made posters on why the project was so important to them.

"We need more space for new members and the activities we do," wrote Charlie Gasperoni.

"I think the change at the church is going to be great for our community," wrote another.

Selectmen Chairman Rick Griffin, who attended the groundbreaking, said this church is an important part of the town's history. The First Congregational Church and the town was founded by the Rev. Stephen Bachiler in October 1638.

"The (church) does so many great things for the community and (this project) shows you what can be done if everybody works together," said Griffin. "We need more of this in Hampton."

Weatherby said the project should be completed by the middle of May just in time for the church and the town's 375th anniversary.

"This will hopefully allow us to continue for hundreds of more years," Weatherby said.

Peter Middleton of Martini Northern Inc. helps get ready for the groundbreaking ceremony at the First Congregational Church on Sunday.
[Cheryl Senter photo]
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