Bishop Seabury celebrates new location with history
Church has moved around since leaving space in Groton in 2012
Ledyard — Bishop Seabury Anglican Church’s search for a new home has been full of intertwined histories and moments where people were in the right place at the right time.
The church, named after Samuel Seabury, the first Episcopal bishop in the United States, purchased its new location at 6 Hurlbutt Road in Gales Ferry on June 30. The church had moved across the street from the Gales Ferry Landing. Services were held in the new building starting in October, and the space will be formally consecrated at a service on Dec. 1.
The building most recently housed the Village Resale thrift shop, now located next door, and the former Seasonal Home. Because the building had been commercial, the town had issued a tax bill to the church over the summer, despite the church’s nonprofit status. On Wednesday, the Finance Committee voted unanimously to adopt an ordinance authorizing the church’s tax-exempt status to apply to the building and a resolution to authorize a tax abatement.
A public hearing on the ordinance will be held at 6:45 p.m. on Nov. 28 in the Town Council Chambers.
Rector Jay Cayangyang, who has led the church since July 2015, said the church had been meeting in Gales Ferry Landing since 2014, holding services in the gym of the former school and renting out a few classrooms for office space. Before that, the church met at Groton Inn and Suites, renting out the ballroom week to week after moving out of its longtime space on North Road in Groton in 2012.
He said he enjoyed getting to know the other businesses inside Gales Ferry Landing and they had become good neighbors, but because the gym was shared space, parishioners had to set up and break down the sanctuary every week, complete with an altar on wheels.
Junior warden David Lawrence said the odd configuration at the old school brought the congregation closer. However, the church knew that Gales Ferry Landing wasn’t going to be a permanent home, and they started looking into new spaces once the town transferred the building to a private owner.
When they started looking at the former Seasonal Home building, it just felt right, he said.
Renovation work over the summer included installing a new floor and removing walls downstairs to create an open meeting space, and work is continuing on the sanctuary mezzanine. They also installed a new elevator. The church worked with the contractor from Gales Ferry Landing, solidifying their neighborly relations, and congregants of all ages helped in the effort, from the major renovation work to painting.
Overall, however, they tried to maintain the building’s early 19th century character, from the original hardwood floors in the sanctuary to the gaps between the boards in the shiplap.
“Samuel Seabury was late 18th century, he was about a generation ahead of this building, but it would not have been too far removed from something he would recognize,” Cayangyang said. “So I said to them, ‘Would this be a place that Samuel Seabury would come into and recognize?’”
Jess Primett, who serves on the vestry, said the first service in the new space was overwhelming and powerful, and April Head, a lifelong member who also serves on the vestry, said a fellow parishioner compared the feeling to the childhood joy of Christmas morning.
Not having to break down after the service made it even better, Head said with a laugh.
Lawrence said it is also nice to be able to hold funerals and other major services in-house, as the gym at Gales Ferry Landing had been too small for such important life moments.
They’re still figuring out the best configuration of the various spaces throughout the building but Cayangyang said he hopes to rebuild the children’s programming and ministry, Vacation Bible School, and the church’s general presence in the community.
He said the neatest story in the whole process is that of the church building, itself. In addition to Seasonal Home, Village Resale and a funeral home before that, it housed the United Methodist Church for many decades before it moved to its current space down the street on Chapman Lane.
During the renovation process, parishioners sanding the front door found the original layer of red paint signifying the church.
The Methodist church also temporarily had held services at the former Gales Ferry School after a fire in the 1960s, evidence of which is still visible in the church attic. The two churches’ histories were tied together again while Bishop Seabury was in the process of moving; since the Seasonal Home building wasn’t quite ready for occupancy, UMC shared its sanctuary space until it was ready.
The Rev. Tom Bentum of UMC will speak at the consecration service to honor the shared history, Cayangyang said.
“It’s often said that the church is not the building, and there’s a lot of truth to that. The church is the people. But a building often times tells the story of the people,” he said, highlighting the baptisms, marriages and funerals that take place in the church. “It really represents the story of life.”
Bishop Seabury Anglican Church’s new sanctuary is pictured.