State supreme court case stalls Wareham church's renovation plan

By Matthew Bernat | Jul 15, 2017
Photo by: Matthew Bernat Wesley United Methodist Church parishioners are awaiting the outcome of the Supreme Judicial Court case before seeking funds to repair the building.

Wesley United Methodist Church parishioners hoped the roughly 170-year-old building they worship in would receive a facelift this summer, but a case before the state's highest court has put that plan on hold.

On Saturday, during the church’s annual summer fair, Pastor Ginny Doran grilled hot dogs beneath the church’s weathered facade and explained the situation.

“We wanted to fix the outside of the building. There’s some issues with lead paint, asbestos,” said Doran. “As a church, we aren’t very hopeful right now. We’re trying to figure out how to move forward.”

In January, the town’s Community Preservation Committee approved placing an agenda item before April Town Meeting voters that, if approved, would have given the church $142,750 for repairs.

Each year, the committee considers requests from groups seeking funds for projects related to open space, historic preservation, affordable housing and recreation. Those Community Preservation Act funds are raised through a surcharge on property tax bills. The state then matches a percentage of those town-raised funds.

However, the vote the never happened. Committee members were advised to withdraw the item due to a Supreme Judicial Court case originating in Acton.

In that town, a decision to use $100,000 of Community Preservation Act funds to preserve an historic church was challenged by Americans United for Separation of Church and State. The Washington, D.C.-based group filed a lawsuit against Acton last July that said using those funds would violate a clause of the state’s constitution that prohibits “the use of public money…for the proposed founding, maintaining or aiding any church.”

Sandy Slavin, a member of Wareham’s Community Preservation Committee, said she wanted to see the high court rule in Acton's favor, allowing Wareham Town Meeting an opportunity to vote on the funds.

“To me, this is a restoration of an historical building that happens to be a church,” said Slavin. “We’re not deciding what goes on inside the building. We’re trying to preserve the exterior.”

Slavin noted local Community Preservation Act funds have been used by area churches before that included spending $60,000 to restore the First Congregational Church's stained glass windows and renovations at the First Spiritualist Church of Onset.

Doran said the court will hear the Acton case this summer, but a date hasn’t been set yet.

If the decision doesn’t go in Acton’s favor, Doran said the church’s roughly 60 parishioners will consider less costly options, such as vinyl siding, and perhaps raise those funds privately.

Doran said she hopes that’s not the case.

“We’d like to restore it properly with clapboard and have it look the way it’s meant to look,” she said.

Slavin said should the court side with Acton, her committee will then put the church’s request before Town Meeting voters.

Until that happens, Doran said church members will just have to wait.

“Summer is in full swing,” she said. “We’re going to enjoy it and weigh our options in the fall.”

Comments (10)
Posted by: noseyrich | Jul 17, 2017 06:21

"UN"Americans United for Separation of Church and State! How does this anti religion organization have any standing in Wareham? Our business is none of theirs. Mr. Slavin is right on, this 170 yr old building is an historic part of the community, even if it is a church. Organizations like this one are founded to do the exact opposite of what their name implies, they want to discriminate on our  institutions and obstruct our freedoms. Boo Hiss on the Americans United for Separation of Church and State. Buncha commies at best.

Posted by: desertsky | Jul 17, 2017 09:22

It'd be interesting to know how many of the members of this organization are actually Americans...

Posted by: 181mph | Jul 17, 2017 14:32

i was gonna leave a comment, but i don't want to catch fire

Posted by: fritzfricia | Jul 17, 2017 14:44

The other church was going to cost, what 146k? Out of CPF?


You know what else gets to use those funds, those who go to classes for new housing and want to get help buying their first homes.


Wareham does a buy down program, instead of a flat rate but only when there are funds.

Wouldn't it be better to get worthy people into homes than refurbish a church that can't even raise funds regularly to keep it functional?

Have a bake sale, do a volunteer drive. My taxes should go to those in need of help and keeping the public use items in good repair. Not a church with a tiny amount of parishoners.

Posted by: Fossil | Jul 17, 2017 23:24

I have to agree with Fritz.  Raise funds another way, this is a church, despite the age of it. Tax money should not support it.

Posted by: 181mph | Jul 18, 2017 13:18

churches don't pay taxes, why should taxes support it

Posted by: Chaka | Jul 18, 2017 23:32

181, what you wrote makes a ton of sense.

Posted by: Spherebreaker | Jul 19, 2017 07:42

I would rather see tax dollars spent on a church than on illegal aliens housing, food, education, and heathcare. Not to mention the community that illegal immigration destroys.

Posted by: Wareham By The Sea | Jul 19, 2017 11:41

Sandy Slavin has an excellent point. What goes on inside a church isn't something that tax dollars should fund. However, the outside of the church is a historic building for all to see. Neatly kept white churches are quintessential of New England towns like Wareham.


Take a look at the picture or drive by this church. It's looking rough...really rough.  It has nothing to do with religion or any of that complicated controversial stuff.  If it looks nice, our town looks nice. How simple is that to accept?


I am all for these community preservation funds being spent on  reasonable sized, manageable projects that make Wareham look nice. We need to shake the image of being a poor town. If we make highly visible things like churches look nice we will begin that process of making the whole town look nice. How simple is that to accept?

Posted by: 181mph | Jul 19, 2017 12:20

WBTS, what y'all need to do then is  get together with a bunch of folks that would like to see the outside of the building look good and y'all spend a weekend volunteering to paint the outside of the church, that way no tax payer dollars are being used, and y'all get a nice looking job for free,, sorta like an old fashioned barn raising,,,

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