Last Service Sunday for City's Oldest Church Building

LACONIA — For nearly two centuries the familiar, majestic old New England white clapboard church has graced Veterans Square in downtown Laconia with its steeple soaring high above the surrounding business community, other churches, and across the way the picturesque railroad station. However, following this Sunday morning's service it will no longer house the Evangelical Baptist congregation which next week will move to its new home in Lakeport.

After years of unsuccessfully seeking property in the local area, the decision was made to purchase Our Lady of the Lakes' buildings in Lakeport when they were made available for sale. For some time, desperately needing more space to expand, the growing EBC congregation had necessitated two Sunday morning services.

Since renovations in Lakeport have been ongoing for several months, for the immediate future Sunday meetings will be held in the property's gymnasium located across Washington Street from the sanctuary. It is hoped that classrooms, an enlarged fellowship hall and other changes will be ready for occupation soon after the first of the year. Eventually, others will be scheduled as needed. For the handicapped, an elevator and ramp have been installed near the new entryway. Meanwhile, the gym is at ground level and shouldn't be difficult for handicap entry. Church offices, including the pastor's, business, and other related rooms, have been operating for over a year in the former large parsonage to the right of the church, separated by the parking lot. And unlike the downtown property, plenty of parking is available.

Tomorrow, Remembrance Sunday, there will be just one service for everyone at 10 a.m. in Veterans Square. Among special features planned are video interviews with long-term members, singing of the older hymns, an illustrated historical retrospect by Pastor Dan Lyle, message by the Rev. Dr. Frank Accardy, a former pastor of the church, and a communion service led by Jeff Price, also a former pastor. A sister church has offered to staff the nursery so that everyone can participate in this historic event. Guests, especially those who may have attended EBC in the past, are invited to join together for this final salute to Veterans Square.

Next Week, November 3, Celebration Sunday, begins a new era in the life of EBC. Another historic worship service will be held in the gym at the Lakeport campus. There will be just one service on that day, starting at 10 a.m. as well.

Beginning Sunday, November 10, the current plan is to resume a two-service schedule, mainly because double services provide more attendance options, thus facilitating growth, and double services also make it possible for those involved in children's ministry to both serve and worship on any given Sunday. Therefore, starting on that day service times will be 9 and 11 a.m. , with a shared coffee break in between.

"I realize that's a lot of change to process but EBC is in a season of change and change is a fact of life," Interim Pastor Lynn Kent noted recently, adding further that he, "as well as Joshua Stone, transitional assistant pastor, and Dan Lyle, worship pastor, is convinced that these changes are in the very best interest of our church and especially those whom we want to reach."

Listed on the National Historic Register, the white structure so symbolic of early New England churches has been a familiar and beloved landmark in downtown Laconia ever since the construction by the Congregationalists in 1836. At that time, known as the North Church, it stood at the corner of Church and Main streets next to property later occupied by Gale Memorial Library which was built between 1901 and 1903. Shortly thereafter, the Congregationalists built a new stone church across Pleasant Street and sold the wooden building to the First Christian Church (formerly known as The Peoples Church, now as Evangelical Baptist) which had the structure moved to its current location across from the railroad station.

Selling price of the old church was $1,000 ($600 for the building and $400 for the pipe organ). It cost another $1,999 to move it across the square to the new lot which cost $1,780. Transported on rollers, it went with everything intact. Nor was the building damaged many years later when the 179-foot steeple was destroyed in the 1938 hurricane, falling across the square and landing on the roof of the depot. The first Sunday service in the relocated and refurbished church took place on Jan. 2, 1904.

Sadly, especially for those who, with their families and ancestors have attended services in this building for so many years, the structure will no longer house a church. However, as noted recently by David Provan, chairman of the building committee, "We realize that buildings are only tools. This campus will allow us to spread God's Word, to help those in the Lakes Region who are in need and hurting, to adequately accommodate those who want to join us, as well as to enable us to mature and grow as Christians."

"I'm impressed by the congregation's unity and sense of adventure about this move", observed Pastor Kent, continuing: "It would be so easy for them to cling to what has always been and miss what could be. It seems like those who have worshipped at the Veterans Square building the longest have been the most enthusiastic about moving forward to Lakeport. They understand that the church isn't a building but rather the people who worship, fellowship and serve together. God is being glorified and the Kingdom of Christ advanced because of this practical demonstration of faith. It is a privilege for me to serve with this wonderful church at this exciting time."

Papers are expected to be passed this month by David and Maureen Kennedy of Hampton who plan to convert the building into an Irish restaurant and pub.