October 6, 2020
Submitted by: Nina Wellford
The members of Old Ship Church take the stewardship of our property very seriously.
Since 1681 the First Parish congregation has been supporting the Meeting House, the oldest building in continuous use as a place of worship in the United States. It sits next to the Bell Tower, which the First Parish deeded to the Town in 1977. We have gratefully received a number of national, state and local grants, along with contributions from Hingham residents who are not members of our church, to help cover the costs of the major restoration projects our congregation has undertaken over the years. However, the daily maintenance that has kept the Meeting House and grounds in excellent condition for 340 years is covered by the members of Old Ship Church. Along with funding the programming and outreach that supports our mission as a church, maintaining the Meeting House and the memorial garden and grounds surrounding it, is our top priority.
Across the street at 107 Main, the Parish House situated on 3 acres was originally built as a gracious, large, single family home in 1856. Our congregation purchased it in 1956 and added the Fellowship Hall a few years later. For the past 65 years, it has served as the home for Old Ship‘s offices, religious education classes and fellowship hour on Sundays, annual fundraising events, and receptions marking life’s passages. In addition, we have rented space to organizations like the New England Conservatory, a nursery school, dance classes, AA, and currently, the LAUNCH program. These organizations have helped us cover the costs of maintaining this old house, but we have worked around the fact that the second floor and attic storage space are not handicapped accessible - as a church, we should do better. As much as we have made the most of “living” in this spacious Parish House, even our best efforts have not enabled us to keep up with funding to properly maintain it, and sadly, it shows.
That is the background to the decision that faces our congregation now.
We are seriously exploring the possibility of selling the Parish House and its three acres in downtown Hingham, to someone who would actually restore it, and whose plan would enable it to be maintained the way a beautiful structure of its prominence should be.
In addition, this concept would include us selling a small portion of the land in the back to the Affordable Housing Trust, so they can expand the Lincoln School Apartments. Currently over 50 people are on the waiting list for the truly affordable apartments that Lincoln School has provided to seniors in Hingham. We at Old Ship would be proud to add to Hingham’s affordable housing stock in this way.
From Main Street, the Parish House property would look essentially the same. The potential developer would work with neighbors and the Town to create plans that are acceptable. But between the additional truly affordable apartments at the Lincoln School that would be built without a 40B, and the potential plans for the Parish House structure, the Town would gain three major assets that Old Ship is unable to contribute: tax revenue, affordable housing, and added vibrancy to Hingham’s downtown.
The second part of the plan involves building a new Parish House on the wooded lot that we already own next to the Meeting House. It would be smaller, closer to the Meeting House, fully accessible, more efficient, and would fit in with the streetscape of Hingham Square. We would mirror earlier uses of the site that included a lane running up the hill to the front entrance. Did you know that for many years, until it burned in 1847, there was a boy’s academy where the new house would sit?
These are the decisions that Old Ship members have been debating for several years, and now in meetings that have been made public through social media. Clearly, these are major decisions that would mark another turning point in the history of our parish.
We, our congregation of dedicated Old Shippers who take our stewardship seriously, will make a final decision in the next few weeks. At that point, should we decide to move forward, everyone would have the opportunity to weigh in, as we do in Hingham, by law. The developer would meet with the neighbors to shape his plans. The plans would have to be approved by all the Town Boards, and also at Town Meeting in April.
Until we have a decision to announce, we will continue to deliberate, focusing on the future of our parish and what we believe will contribute most positively to the Town of Hingham. Thank you for your understanding.
Nina Wellford is currently the Treasurer and a member of the Board of Trustees of First Parish in Hingham, Old Ship Church.