Three cheers for meeting chair fund goal

Nov 27, 2019 by

Published November 27, 2019


NORTH READING — Earlier this month, the members of the Aldersgate United Methodist Church were surprised to learn that their pews did not meet current fire codes.

The padded, dusty rose and mauve-colored upholstered pews were in great shape physically, even after years of use in their sanctuary. Unlike a traditional pew these pews are not secured to the floor. This has enabled them to reconfigure the sanctuary space to suit the need for anything from concerts to breakfasts to cheering practice.

But after a routine inspection by the town, Rev. Rachel Fisher, Aldersgate’s pastor, was informed that the pews could no longer be used. In fact, they would have to be removed within 20 days.

“The pews had been there for 25 years and apparently the code on polyurethane foam has changed following The Station Nightclub fire,” Rev. Fisher said, referring to the February 2003 fire in West Warwick, R.I. in which 100 people were killed and over 200 injured after pyrotechnics ignited acoustic foam in the walls and ceilings around the stage.

REV. RACHEL FISHER in the sanctuary of the Aldersgate Church. These 25-year-old church pews must find new homes by Dec. 1 to meet current fire codes. (Maureen Doherty Photo)

“He was good about it,” she said about the inspector. “He researched it because I think he knew what a big deal it was” for their small church to absorb such an unexpected expense just as they were entering the busiest time of the year.

The pews must be removed from the building by the December 1 deadline, so they will make do with folding chairs until replacement chairs are delivered. The old pews cannot be repurposed in another public space but they can be used as benches in a private home or other setting, such as a mud room. Many of the pews have found new homes but the church will have to pay a disposal fee for any remaining pews as of this Sunday.

“So we researched the replacement for this type of chair and thought we would need 144,” she said. The easy part was selecting the type of replacement chairs. The hard part would be coming up with the funds to replace them. The church Trustees selected 21-inch wide padded chairs in a similar color that are due to arrive in a few weeks at a cost of $5,600.

Through their own research they learned that their only other alternatives would have been to reupholster the pews to bring them into code compliance at a cost of $15,000 or to buy brand new pews for $55,000.

Within that context the $5,600 seems like a bargain, but they were still experiencing sticker shock.

It turns out that they didn’t have a whole lot to worry about. They were overwhelmed by the response from townspeople and raised the $5,600 in pledges and donations in just five days. In the first two weeks of the church’s fundraising drive they had received over $8,000 in pledges and cash donations.

Rev. Fisher was overwhelmed by the response and feels very blessed. “The church (members) really responded very strongly,” she said, but she was also moved by the acts of total strangers.

“It was people coming to our breakfasts; it was the AA groups and the Compassionate Friends that use the building,” she said. Someone stood up and made an announcement about their situation at the weekly service at the Union Congregational Church, which resulted in more donations. A “chair fund” button was added to the church’s webpage.

Donors within and outside of their church circle have given generously to their chair fund. While visiting a local restaurant she bumped into a group of people, one of whom she knew, and as soon as they learned of the need, they opened their wallets to help.

“It made us aware of how many friends we have and it was really affirming,” Rev. Fisher said, adding that any excess funds will be put toward disposal fees and to help mitigate the expenses of a few other matters that came up during the inspection.

“It has turned into a story of: ‘This is what God does.’ That scary, awful thing that you are looking at and then taking it and just flipping it upside down. It is going to be a huge blessing and we’re going to see something courageous and hopeful: ‘Look what God’s going to do!” she said.

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