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Tuesday, November 20, 2012

On Fire’s Anniversary, Church Looks to the Future

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By James Lomuscio

During the late evening hours a year ago today flames leaped higher than the steeple of Westport’s historic Saugatuck Congregational Church on Post Road East.

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The Rev. Alison J. Buttrick Patton tours the fire-damaged church today. (CLICK TO ENLARGE) Dave Matlow for WestportNow.com

The rear of the building sustained most of the damage with the fellowship and second floor music rooms destroyed. Smoke and water damaged the rest, even the sanctuary that most initially thought had been spared.

Today, the Rev. Alison J. Buttrick Patton,  John Walsh, chairman of the church’s Board of Trustees, and Randy Christophersen, who chairs the church’s annual Thanksgiving feast, toured the building on the fire’s anniversary, looking to a future when the building would once again be a community hub.

“You couldn’t help thinking back to that night which was exactly a year ago today,” said Walsh about today’s visit. “I thought of standing in the parking lot that night. We thought we would lose the whole thing.

“But that historic sanctuary has been preserved,” he added about the church built in 1832, “and it is a symbol of our coming back. It’s been a historic year in that there’s been renewed sense of commitment to the church out of fear of what might have been lost.”

And that support has come from other religious organizations, including Temple Israel and Christ & Holy Trinity Church.

Since the fire, Saugatuck Congregational’s annul Thanksgiving feast open to all in the community has been moved to the Great Hall at Christ & Holy Trinity on Church Lane.

Christophersen says he expects about 300 to attend the annual dinner than runs from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.

To hear Buttrick-Patton tell it, it might be another two years before Saugatuck Congregational opens its own doors for the annual feast.

“We expect the construction to begin in the spring, and if all goes well we would like to be back in the building by the fall of 2014, so two years from now.” she said.

She said that since the fire church officials have spent time on “cleanup and remediation and having ongoing conversation with the insurance companies.”

She said they have also been working with architects for a new building design that will retain “the historic element of the building.”

“At the same time we want to make it a structure that will serve us into the next generations,” Buttrick-Patton said.

“It’s going to take time, but we’re coming back,” said Walsh noting that the congregation “enthusiastically endorsed the (design) plans we presented to them a few weeks ago.”

Church officials have a Planning and Zoning Commission (P&Z) meeting scheduled for Dec. 6.

“That is the last step of our town approvals,” Walsh said. “So, we’re well on our way.”

Posted 11/20 at 09:03 PM

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