Helping hands are tackling fixes at First Parish Church

Volunteers from Rebuilding Boston Together take a picture break from work at First Parish Church. 	Tom Burke photoVolunteers from Rebuilding Boston Together take a picture break from work at First Parish Church. Tom Burke photo

On Saturday, April 30th, First Parish Church on Meetinghouse Hill was one of nine neighborhood sites that were targeted as part of Rebuilding Together Boston’s 20th annual “National Rebuilding Day.”
Dozens of volunteers worked throughout the day doing yard work, painting, and rebuilding the Parish Street entrance, which was badly damaged and deteriorated.

Rebuilding Boston Together is a non-profit organization dedicated to helping low-income homeowners and non-profits continue to live and work in their homes and facilities in the city of Boston.

Steve Sousa, the non-profit’s house captain at the First Parish Church, thoroughly enjoys the work.

“It’s the kind of work I love to do, I like to get my hands dirty,” said Souza. “Everyone has to do their share for the community and this is how I give back. It feels good to know you have given back, it’s rewarding.”

The white church atop Meeting House Hill dates to 1891 and houses the oldest congregation in Boston and one of the oldest in the United States— dating back to the original settlement of Dorchester in 1630. The congregation, under the leadership of Rev. Art Lavoie, has initiated a $5.2 million restoration plan this year that will correct major structural and cosmetic issues and preserve the landmark building for generations to come.

McGinley, Kalsow and Associates, Inc, a renowned historic architecture firm, has been hired and produced a comprehensive assessment of the present condition of the building. First Parish has contracted with Building Legacy for fundraising, grant writing, and community development services.
Two grants have been secured from the National Trust for Historic Preservation and one grant from the Unitarian Universalist Funding Program. They have received two matching grants for urgent repairs; $100,000 from the Henderson Foundation and $50,000 from the Massachusetts Historical Commission Emergency Fund.

There are multiple phases of this project that cover various needs that will take about four years and hopefully be completed by 2015. The first phase is the highest priority: repairs to masonry, parapets, and the church tower, which began this spring and will continue over the summer. The next goal is to complete all the exterior repairs, including paint, restore windows, roof repairs, and various carpentry repairs. The third phase, to be completed in 2013, will be interior repairs and upgrades to make the building fully accessible, alter floor plans, and install an elevator and fire protection. The final phase includes repairs in the foundation, appropriate landscaping, and repairing the steeple clock mechanisms.

First Parish is pursuing additional support from the Boston Foundation, Historic New England, Inc., and Rebuilding Together Boston. They are working toward a relationship with the North Bennett Street School’s fine carpentry apprenticeship program, to assist with several aspects of the restoration project requiring fine craftsmanship. And, as previously reported in the Reporter, the congregation recently voted to sell part of a historic silver collection — which is housed at the Museum of Fine Arts— in an auction sale in January 2012. The sale is expected to fetch a large sum to put towards the restoration bill.

“The needs and struggles in Dorchester are great and it is time for this church to once more be a center of community life and walk with those who struggle and feel oppressed,” Lavoie said on Saturday. “In order to do this we must reach beyond ourselves to accomplish the great task of restoring and renovating this building so that it can better serve this congregation and the needs of the community.”