What will happen to our Buildings?

Consistory had an extraordinary meeting when it came together at the house of Margaret and John Coakley on July 11th. That night our architect, Margaret Westfield, presented the Preservation Plan for our church for the next 7 to 10 years.

The plan is enormous, and so are the costs. If we did everything it entails, we would have spent over $5,000,000 in the next decade. Fortunately, there is an old saying that reminds us that nobody eats a cake at once, but piece by piece.

Margaret Westfield listed four remedies against the fright of big numbers:

  1. Not everything listed in the plan has the same priority.
  2. The plan will be phased over many years.
  3. A good part of the work can be outsourced to volunteers and the RCA Volunteer Services.
  4. We will apply for a second Preservation Grant. According to her plan, our buildings will be in very satisfactory shape after two such grants.

Margaret then explained some of the philosophy behind the plan. There are three basic ways of dealing with historic buildings:

  1. Restore to original site. This requires the elimination of all changes a building has suffered over time. It is the most conservative approach, mostly applied to some museums, but of no interest to us who enjoy some of the modern changes: the breezeway, the upstairs classrooms, the reduction of the sanctuary after the fire.
  2. Preserve the building. This does not attempt turning back the clock, but tries preserving the current status of the building.
  3. Modernize. Examples on our premises are the modern sewer line in the Sexton’s House and handicapped accessible bathrooms in the Church House.

Margaret then explained that the Preservation Plan suggests preservation for the church and the Sexton’s House, and modernization for the Education Building, our Church House.

Following this, she delineated the future process. Currently, we have applied with the NJ Historic Trust for $50,000 in the form of a grant for the Preservation Plan. By December we will know whether we have been awarded this grant. Simultaneously, her office is working on the drawings and is sending out for bids. This will provide us with real numbers as opposed to the estimates of the Preservation Plan.

Parallel to this, our Property Committee, with the help of Westfield Architects and RCA Volunteer Services, will identify segments of the plan that can be accomplished by volunteers both from our midst and from the wider denomination. The more we can do in this regard, the less we have to contract out.

Finally, she said, the fund-raising campaign needs to take on more form. By June 2008, we need to have all pledges in hand for our $750,000 match for the first Preservation Grant. This includes pledges from us church members, pledge letters from corporations and organizations, and grants that can be used towards the match with the NJ Historic Trust. By December 2008, we should know whether we will receive the first Preservation Grant.

The evening ended with a lively discussion, signs of gratitude, and the expressed hope that we will grow as a church through this project. In the end, I read an email from David Shipman who reminded us how much the Preservation Project is built on a foundation laid by our former Pastor David Muyskens; his book History of the First Reformed Church provided invaluable references in the grant application and it is thanks to him that the property is on the National Historic Register. Without the latter, we would not have been eligible for the grant.

It was a special night in Consistory but also a night in which we became all aware how much you, dear reader, will be able to make a difference in the life of your church. We can do it and have the suggestions of the Preservation Plan become reality. But we will have to work together and see to it that this project really becomes our own.

About Rev. Dr. Hartmut Kramer-Mills

Hartmut Kramer-Mills, a native of Jena, Germany, began his theological education at Heidelberg University. After the Middle Exam in 1986 he received a scholarship from the World Alliance of Reformed Churches for McCormick Theological Seminary in Chicago. He graduated from McCormick with a Master of Divinity in 1988. He graduated from Marburg University in Germany with the Ecclesiastical Exam in 1990, and received a Dr. theol. from Greifswald University, Germany, in 1997. From 1990 to 1991 he was vicar at St. Wenzel in Naumburg, Germany. He was ordained minister of word and sacrament in 1993 through the Protestant Church of the Church Province of Saxony. From 1993 to 1998 he served as assistant pastor in Stoessen, Goerschen, and Rathewitz, Germany. At the same time he was lecturer for Church History at Erfurt College in Germany. From 1999 to 2000 he served the Spotswood Reformed Church in New Jersey as interim pastor. Since 2000 he and his wife serve the First Reformed Church in New Brunswick, New Jersey, as co-pastors.
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