Historic Bennington church needs repairs, minister

  • The Bennington Congregational Church struggles to stay afloat as repair costs stack up and membership dwindles.  Courtesy photo

Monadnock Ledger-Transcript
Wednesday, June 21, 2017 6:43PM

The Bennington Congregational Church has more or less been shut down except for Sunday services due to upgrades needed to be completed on the historic building.

Church members are hoping to raise $50,000 for repairs. They have raised a little over $6,000 since they launched the effort.

The church, which was built in 1839, is only allowed to host Sunday services due to work that needs to be done to the structure. Three members of the congregation — Virginia and Tony Pereira, and Joyce Miner — said the building needs a lot of work, but most imminently needs to be brought up to fire code. That means the fire alarm system needs to be replaced and exit door lighting re-done.

“Without that, we shut down, we can’t have any services, no funerals, no weddings, just Sunday service,” Tony said, adding that a ham and bean dinner scheduled for the Bennington’s 175th Celebration was canceled because of the repairs that need to be made.

Members of the church generally hold community dinner fundraisers throughout the year in order to raise money to put into the building’s general fund. They can’t these days because of the condition of the building, which means 20 to 30 percent of their annual income has been shut off.

The church also needs to be repainted, and its slate-shingled roof replaced, to name a few items off a long list. Last summer, the church steeple needed to be fixed, a project that cost about $16,000.

“It just keeps adding up, and adding up,” Virginia said.

On top of that, church membership has been falling over the years. There is currently about 20 members, a number that also makes it hard for the church to continue operating. Tony said a church needs about 200 members to be able to sustain itself financially.

Already, it is having a difficult time employing a full-time minister.

“Unfortunately we cannot afford a minister,” Tony said.

A person with a master’s degree requires $50,000 to $70,000 per year. Tony said the church draws in about $1,000 a month.

Right now, they rotate through three different people and that’s not ideal, he said.

“That’s a problem here, we don’t have a permanent minister and a lot of people have stopped coming because they want to have a permanent one,” Tony said. “They want to have a relationship with their minister. That’s very important and we understand that.”

If the church is lost, Virginia said, it would be a big loss for the community. She said the church bakes cookies, writes cards, and prays for people in the community.

Already, Tony said, there is a heightened awareness that the congregational church is the only remaining one in town after the Catholic Church on Greenfield Road shuttered its doors.

“People have busy lives and they’re doing the best they can, but unfortunately the way humans are is that they don’t feel until they lose it,” Tony said. “And if this church was to go away, it would be a big loss not only for this town but also for the membership to the people in town. I cannot even imagine what it would be like.”

Abby Kessler can be reached at 924-7172, ext. 234 or akessler@ledgertranscript.com. Follow her on Twitter @akesslerMLT.