Little Compton church gets a 'welcome' update

Years in the making, United Congregational Church of Little Compton's 'Project Welcome' renovations begin

By Kristen Ray
Posted 8/13/20

LITTLE COMPTON – For 316 years, the United Congregational Church (UCC) of Little Compton has stood tall on the town Commons, a fixture of history and faith in the coastal community. Now the …

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Little Compton church gets a 'welcome' update

Years in the making, United Congregational Church of Little Compton's 'Project Welcome' renovations begin

Posted

LITTLE COMPTON – For 316 years, the United Congregational Church (UCC) of Little Compton has stood tall on the town Commons, a fixture of history and faith in the coastal community. Now the iconic structure is about to receive a ‘welcome’ update as it undergoes major renovations and construction this fall.

Dubbed “Project Welcome,” those updates – which involve the demolition and reconstruction of the church’s north-end addition as well as interior improvements to the vestry – were four years in the planning, current Building Committee Chairman Chris Killenberg said.

“We’ve been wanting to do this for many years,” he said.

Though the centuries-old church had undergone numerous facelifts since it was last torn down and rebuilt back in 1832, it was showing clear signs that some modernization was in order. The interior, Mr. Killenberg said, had become outdated; the two outdoor fire escapes in the back were both too steep and dangerous in the wintertime. And though a stunning feature, the antique spiral stairwell in the front foyer was “not a modern solution” for elderly or handicapped parishioners, he added.   

To begin addressing some of those concerns, a group called the Church Building Utilization Committee formed, studying the UCC from “top to bottom” and requesting input from churchgoers. The congregation enlisted architect Greg Yalanis from spring street STUDIO in Newport to help realize their vision. But it took some time to devise a plan that safely blended old and new.

“We’re trying to arrive at the best combination of things that will give us the most safe and modern building, but also realizing that our starting point is a very old building that was designed a long time ago,” Mr. Killenberg said.

That “combination,” Mr. Killenberg said, ultimately fell into three different categories of improvements:  safety, accessibility and hospitality. The old addition will be torn down, replaced by one that’s double in size and houses features like a new elevator and two indoor, fire-safe stairwells. The first floor of the church – namely, the kitchen and gathering space – will receive a bit of a refresher, Mr. Killenberg said, to “clean them up and dress them up” for those wishing to utilize them, both within and outside of the congregation. The ceiling above the vestry will now be fire-resistant, and improvements will be made to the heating and cooling systems.

Construction for Project Welcome, which began this month, is expected to be completed in December, Mr. Killenberg said, with John Damon from The Damon Company in Newport brought onboard as the contractor for the job. While in normal times the church would have had to suspend use of the sanctuary – located on the second floor – for the duration of the project, the UCC has already been closed as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We can’t use the building now anyway,” Mr. Killenberg said.

When Project Welcome is all said and done, Mr. Killenberg hopes that the end result will be a church that not only parishioners will enjoy, but those from outside the congregation as well – whether it be for weddings, baptisms or community events.

“I think this project is not just a church project, it’s also a Little Compton project,” he said.

Breaking ground

To commemorate the project that was years in the making, the UCC celebrated a groundbreaking ceremony on Sunday, Aug. 2.

Beginning at 11 am, the event honored those who have been involved with Project Welcome since its inception, thanking those who helped make it happen.

“The dream that we dreamed was to build a building that would reflect the welcome we say every week and that we try to embody in the world,” said Rev. Rebecca Floyd Marshall.

Though realizing that “dream” would come with an estimated $850,000 price tag, chairman of the Board of Trustees Tom Schmitt said that, out of the 222 friends and members of the UCC who were approached to contribute, 71 percent ultimately did.

“Which is pretty close to a miracle in the fundraising world,” he said.

With the funds all raised and the building permit in hand, it was time to officially get Project Welcome underway. With shovels in hand, Rev. Floyd Marshall, Mr. Schmitt and Mr. Killenberg and several others broke ground late that morning, tossing the dirt into the air.

“Bless this ground,” Rev. Floyd Marshall said, “and all who walk on it.”

Building Committee members who will oversee  construction are: Cam Church, Peter Derbyshire, Kris Donovan, Louise Goodman, Chris Killenberg, and Victoria Talbot.

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