Mayor Kate Snyder and Steve Bromage, executive director of the Maine Historical Society, will join on September 28 at 1:30 pm in the dedication of major accessibility and media enhancements installed in the City’s historic Congress Street church, First Parish in Portland.
The dedication ceremony will take place at the church’s new, second entrance, served now by an elevator, in the plaza shared with Portland High School. The addition to the building, together with improvements to the enclosed garden on Congress Street, upgrades to the sound and light production equipment in the interior, are the result of a successful multi-year $1.5 million capital campaign.
Funding included a Community Development Block Grant from the City of Portland to enhance the use of the building for public events and performances. The City is also collaborating by making Plaza improvements, installing new lighting, and will be scheduling upgrades to “Freshman Alley” which PHS students use to great advantage during their lunch periods. The plaza and the alleyways connect Elm Street, Preble Street and Congress Street.
Since 1826, First Parish’s historic Meeting House has been central to Portland’s cultural life, through its Unitarian/Universalist church services, community gatherings and use as a venue for meetings and events. The Meeting House is both elegant and functional but many of its distinct architectural features have not accommodated full and easy access to its spaces.
To address these accessibility barriers, the First Parish membership launched “A Church for EveryBody” campaign in 2019 to renovate the Meeting House and Parish Hall, including the installation of an elevator, the construction of a second main entrance on the Portland High School Plaza, and the renovation of the community room and kitchen, both used for community functions.
“This work will bring a 200-year-old icon in Portland, the place where Maine’s constitution was debated and framed, into the 21st century in a way that will make it now available and welcoming to all,” declared Austin Farrar, president of the First Parish Board of Trustees and Ted Oldham, architect and co-chair of the “Church for EveryBody” campaign,
In addition, the church’s public garden on Congress Street is being enhanced; a wheelchair accessible ramp has been installed and better lighting and improved fencing, to ensure a safer, more welcoming outdoor space, will be completed soon. Finally, A Church for EveryBody will update the church’s audio/visual capability, including hearing assistance, lighting, video cameras and high-capacity internet for live streaming, to provide “virtual accessibility” to all First Parish events.
Following a brief dedication ceremony at 1:30 pm September 28 to acknowledge these significant improvements, small group tours of the upgraded areas in the church buildings and garden, including the new elevator, will be offered, subject to City and state COVID restrictions.
About First Parish in Portland
The original First Parish church built in Falmouth, Massachusetts Colony, now Portland, Maine, dates from 1674. In 1740 the second wooden Meeting House, known as Old Jerusalem, was erected at the present location, 425 Congress Street. The present granite structure opened its doors in 1826. As Unitarian Universalists, the congregation practices a liberal religion. Affirming the worth of all humans, the church advocates freedom of belief and the search for advancing truth.