The race is on as Orient civic groups seek to raise $950,000 by late spring to buy a historic local church dating to the 1800s and keep it open for future generations.
The Orient United Methodist Church, which is owned by the Cutchogue-based North Fork United Methodist Church, is being sold as part of a plan to consolidate its four member churches on the North Fork into a single church and location.
Local civic groups say the church on Village Lane and the adjacent Hallelujah Park have been a cornerstone of the community for generations.
“There are people who have been worshipping there for generations, who have had baptisms, funerals, weddings there,” said Elsbeth Dowd, executive director of the Oysterponds Historical Society. “In the summertime, we have people going all over the park, kids coming through on bikes . . . it’s just a lively place.”
Though the building is protected from demolition, Robert Hanlon, the Orient Association’s president, said there is no assurance that another buyer wouldn’t gut the interior and close the park off from public use.
While residents’ feedback was positive in recent community outreach meetings, Dowd said they were worried about running out of time before raising enough money to buy the church before the tentative late spring deadline.
According to Pastor Tom MacLeod of North Fork United Methodist Church, who heads the church’s trustee board, the decision to merge the churches was made to help place the church in a better financial position to operate and keep its community programs, such as its food pantry.
MacLeod said trustees have decided to first try to work with local civic groups interested in preserving the property.
“Given that Orient has such a steep history, we’re trying to work hand in hand with the groups,” MacLeod said. “They feel it’s part of their history.”
Dowd, who is working with Suffolk Legis. Al Krupski (D-Cutchogue) on funding options, said a Feb. 18 community meeting gave her hope that more residents will come forward to help preserve the property.
“By end of the meeting, when they were asked if they were committed to this effort, many of them raised their hands,” Dowd said. “It was incredible.”