Bishop Se­abury cel­e­brates new lo­ca­tion with his­tory

Church has moved around since leav­ing space in Gro­ton in 2012

The Day - - REGION - By AMANDA HUTCHIN­SON Day Staff Writer

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.

Main­tain­ing char­ac­ter

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.”

COUR­TESY OF BISHOP SE­ABURY ANGLI­CAN CHURCH

Bishop Se­abury Angli­can Church’s new sanc­tu­ary is pic­tured.

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