When members of the Life Community Church held a dedication for their new home, it marked the return of the building they occupy to its original use.

A little more than a month ago, the congregation bought the former Universalist Congregational Church on Church Hill in Gardiner from the First Baptist Church located directly across the street.

For a congregation that had been meeting in places such as the gymnasium of Laura E. Richards School, the move represents a chance to put down roots and grow. For the community, it marks the preservation of a building whose future was uncertain just two years ago, when it was sold at auction after the business of the hard cider maker who bought it folded, leaving it vacant and in need of repair.

“It all worked out,” church pastor Ramsey Tripp said Friday. “We got all the money we needed in less time than we expected, and we closed on Dec. 22.”

The church building was, in effect, the congregation’s Christmas present to itself. And it ended up being a boon to the First Baptist Church as well.

The yellow clapboard building had been the home of Lost Orchard Brewing in the Crooked Halo Cider House.

David Boucher, who had been making hard cider, originally planned to open his cidery in the church, produce up to 50,000 gallons of hard cider annually and open a larger production facility elsewhere in Gardiner, if the demand warranted.

In part because of Boucher’s interest, in 2014 city officials adopted an ordinance that would allow some commercial uses in older buildings such as schools and churches that are located in residential neighborhoods. Boucher did secure production space in South Gardiner, and opted to create a tasting room in the church, but it’s not clear that it ever opened.

While Boucher owned the property, he and the Baptist Church had struck a deal over parking. When events at the church drew more people than its parking lot could accommodate, church members were welcome to use Boucher’s property.

“Weddings or funerals, those are the big events. Weddings, funerals, Christmas and Easter,” said Dan Bailey, who owns Bailey Auto Sales in Gardiner, is a member of the First Baptist Church and is the chairman of its finance committee. “That’s why we decided we had to buy it.”

The churches are located in an established neighborhood, just up the hill from Gardiner’s downtown. While both churches have parking lots, on-street parking on Church Street is unavailable.

The historic church building was listed for auction at the end of 2017. But even before the sign was posted, Bailey received a call about the pending auction. He brought the idea to the members of his congregation and with their agreement, he bid on the property. When the auction ended, one congregation was the owner of two church properties.

While church members were able to make use of the parking lot, the fate of the church building and attached fellowship hall on the property was still in question; splitting the lot wasn’t possible.

“When I convinced the church to sell it, no one seemed to like the arrangement with the parking lot,” Bailey said. “We did have some interest. But it kind of petered out. Either they couldn’t get the financing or it was too big a job to restore. Some people were looking at putting apartments in.”

Several offers surfaced when, Bailey said, Steve McGee, one of the Life Community Church’s members, approached him about buying the church.

“Church Hill was named for churches,” Bailey said.

Most of the members of his congregation favored selling the property to another church, and they made the deal.

As members of the Life Community Church were raising the money – Bailey declined to give the purchase price – they were allowed to move in before the sale was completed.

The Life Community Church is a nondenominational church that’s affiliated with the Fellowship of Evangelical Churches.

“They are really supportive, but they don’t have mandated things that we have to do,” said Tripp, who is a licensed pastor. “It’s a good fit for us. It allows us to do what God wants us to do.”

 

filed under: