By Carol McCracken (Post # 384)
“It’s not a dying church,” said the Reverend Kitsi Winthrop in a telephone conversation last night with MHN. “It’s more of a wake-up call to the congregation,” she said in response to an inquiry about the future of the oldest church in Portland. “We’ve seen other churches in the area (Chestnut Street and Williston) die out and we just wanted to ask our members to ‘pull together’ to be sure that doesn’t happen to UUC.”
That statement in reference to a meeting of 55 or so active church members that was held at the 425 Congress Street location on Saturday morning, January 9th. According to a church newsletter released by the church to members and supporters yesterday, church leaders in an invitation only meeting said they “refuse to lead a dying church.” Ashley Lasbury, president of the congregation, said in part at the meeting: “The entire Governing Board of First Parish refuses to lead a dying church and it is my hope that by the end of the morning you will refuse to be members of a dying church.” I REFUSE TO LEAD A DYING CHURCH is the title of a book by Paul Nixon that most of the leadership has read or is in the process of reading…And I don’t know about you but I am tired of rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic.”
Lasbury went on to say that “membership is down, church attendance is down and pledge income is down.” There are financial issues as a result. 90% of the budget goes to staff salaries. Just how long UUC can stay on this current path is unclear she said. Succiently put, Lasbury laid out two options. One is to become an all volunter-run church; the other choice is to rebuid the church into one of “abundance.”
The church has recently adopted a provisioal mission statement: “Grow in Spirit, Nurture Community, and Help Heal The World.”
Reverend Winthrop said that since last fall membership has improved, contrary to what Lasbury said, after years of declining membership. The choir itself has been beset with problems for a long time, now, she added. “Kitsi” is an interim minister who lives on Munjoy Hill. The Church search committee has begun looking for a new minister following the death of their previous minister. Rev. Will Saunders is the other interim minister.
(Editor’s Note:) Until recently, Carol McCracken had been a member of the church choir since last fall.) Please visit www.firstparishportland.org for more infommation.