Rev. Arthur Lavoie, who ended his tenure as the minister of the First Parish Church on Meetinghouse Hill last month, presided over a momentous ten years at Dorchester’s original church. He deserves thanks and praise from all sectors of the neighborhood for his leadership in restoring the historic church building while also bolstering the congregation’s longstanding commitment to the wider community.
When Rev. Lavoie arrived in 2005, the First Parish community was at a crossroads. Years of deferred maintenance decisions had left the new minister with a serious set of structural problems. The most obvious was the church’s wedding-cake steeple, which leaned perilously to one side, a situation emblematic of a larger problem with the building, which was built in the late 1890s to replace an earlier incarnation of the church, which was destroyed in an 1896 fire.
“When Art came to the congregation, there was not even consensus on whether they should retain the building,” said Jenn Cartee, who serves as the chair of the First Parish Dorchester Board of Trustees. While the congregation always made major decisions as a team, it was Rev. Lavoie who provided “transformational” leadership in guiding the members through the complex set of decisions needed to restore the church.
“I think the congregation under his leadership was really able to develop a much better sense of its own identity and what their call of action should be, the real mission and purpose of the congregation to its own members and to the wider community,” said Cartee.
It was Rev. Lavoie who served as the public face of First Parish – and not just in carrying word of the $5 million preservation effort. He served as chair of the Dorchester House (now DotHouse Health) Governing Board and as a member of the Bowdoin/Geneva Alliance. Throughout his tenure and the massive restoration work (which won a statewide award from the Massachusetts Historical Commission for excellence in preservation earlier this year), the church continued to serve as a vital gathering point for Dorchester people of all faiths and perspectives.
It was fitting, then, that about 200 people from across Dorchester turned out for a farewell luncheon, catered by Cesaria’s restaurant, on Sunday, June 21, the last official day of Rev. Lavoie’s ministry. Following his final sermon, he was presented with gifts, including a custom-made red-cedar wall-hanging and a mural painted by kids from the parish. A member of the congregation gave him a scrapbook filled with photos and clips from his ten years in ministry.
The Unitarian Universalist congregation is funding a sabbatical for Rev. Lavoie through the end of the year as he decides what he will do next in his life as a minister. The parish itself will choose an interim minister for an 18-month period beginning in January, to be followed by a longer-term replacement. In the meantime, four resident ministers are sharing the pastoral duties at First Parish.
First Parish is an important institution in our community and its successful restoration and continued success over the last decade is something that is relevant to people of all faiths. We are grateful to Rev. Lavoie for his thoughtful stewardship of First Parish over the last ten years.