PORTLAND – The trustees of Williston West Church are deeply saddened by the divisive atmosphere that has emerged over the proposal to rezone our former church at 32 Thomas St.

The church was a place where belief in collective action for the betterment of community was practiced. It was a place where dignity and grace were offered to anyone who walked in the door.

In a society where collaboration and civility are in short supply, it was a sanctuary where peace, justice and human spirit were celebrated and nourished.

Our decision to sell the church was arrived at after a very deliberate and thoughtful two-year process.

Our congregation, like many urban congregations nationwide, had been shrinking for many years. Our modest endowment was being drained to meet expenses at an unsustainable rate, and it had become clear that the viability of our congregation was at risk.

The cost to maintain and pay the operating expenses for a 19,000-square-foot, 140-year-old building is substantial.

We were fortunate to have had financial support from many tenants that used the building for community benefit. But it was not sufficient to make the church an affordable option for us.

We had to choose between a building that was woven into the fabric of our identity and our future as a congregation. We chose the congregation. This was the right decision even though it broke our hearts to leave.

During our time of discernment, we informed our city councilor, the Planning Department, the Historic Preservation Board, Greater Portland Landmarks, the Western Prom Neighborhood Association, Waynflete School, our neighbors, several arts organizations and a private foundation about our intentions.

We wanted to alert everyone to the potential sale and sought assistance in finding a new steward for its future.

Williston West Church is an extraordinary structure that is on the National Register of Historic Places. It was designed by two of the most prominent architects in Portland’s history. Its architectural integrity has been preserved, so its extraordinary character can be enjoyed by future generations if it is cared for by the right owner.

Our goals for the sale of the church included finding someone who could use the building productively while preserving as much of its character as possible.

We were not naive. The adaptive re-use of religious structures is difficult to do. Our appraisal of the church’s value was benchmarked to four other churches on the market that have not sold.

One only has to look at the fate of the St. Lawrence Church sanctuary on Congress Street to see what can happen if a successful adaptive re-use cannot be found.

The limitations that Williston West faces are prodigious.

It is a historic building in a historic district in the most restrictive residential zone in Portland. The exterior of the building cannot be altered in any way without prior review and approval by the Historic Preservation Board.

It has only two off-street parking spaces. It is a nonconforming use in the R-4 District. Whoever bought the building would need to request zoning approval for a change in use. And the building has hundreds of thousands of dollars of deferred maintenance needs.

We expected it would take a long time to sell the church. We were, therefore, delighted when shortly after we listed the building for sale, two offers to buy the church were made.

One offered 50 percent of the listing price to create condominiums, conditioned on procuring financing and approvals that would require at least eight months.

The other offered 75 percent of the asking price to use the parish house for residential and business use and the sanctuary as a community space, with no conditions on financing or permitting. This proposal would preserve the sanctuary, with its stained glass windows and the exterior appearance of a church.

The trustees favored the second proposal. However, we wanted to be certain that the purchaser appreciated neighborhood sensitivities and the regulatory challenges he would encounter.

We communicated directly with Frank Monsour to assure ourselves of his intentions, commitment and financial capacity to move forward successfully. After deliberating, the trustees voted unanimously to accept his offer.

Notwithstanding what any individual trustee may have said in the past, Williston West Church takes no position in the current debate.

It is our hope that the community and Dr. Monsour will work together constructively and in good faith to make the future of 32 Thomas St. as bright as its past.

Patrick S. Costin is chair of the Williston West board of trustees.