Highland church looks to bike blessing, fundraiser for help

The First United Methodist Church of Highland. (Photo by Lauren Thomas)

Work to save Highland’s landmark First United Methodist Church continues as members of the grassroots Lloyd Development Association and parish volunteers develop strategies to turn the old building into a multi-use community center and live music venue.

Last week’s meeting was heated, dipping at times into a combative tone that underlined potential problems with rehabilitating the church. The Lloyd Development Association, or LDA, is an all-volunteer group unaffiliated with the town. Their meetings feature a rotating cast of interested citizens who might seem interested one month, but vanish the next. That all has slowed down the church project.


Town Economic Development Committee member Charles Glasner pointed out the many snags the project might face: Church leaders don’t know the scope of the work, so they don’t have a figure to ask from donors; getting a grant for a religious institution presents issues that secular groups wouldn’t have to face; neither the LDA nor the Methodist church have seed money for the project — something that’s essential to put a donation thermometer; and holding concerts in a place of worship means a non-alcoholic venue.

Rev. Arlene Dawber, who heads the church, admitted that he had a point when it came to religious institutions getting grants. “That is always an issue. It’s never been a non-issue for a religious institution to get grants.”

To really achieve what needs to be done at 57 Vineyard Ave., the LDA and church will have to craft a legal agreement so that the association takes charge of the financing as a separate secular entity.

For Kit Cowan, the president of the LDA, taking over the finances isn’t impossible, but her group doesn’t have many resources. “We’re supportive. Financially, we’re not a rich nonprofit. We’ve got $600 to our name. And we feel rich with that,” she said.

Glasner compared the plan for an in-church venue to a “dry Falcon.” The Falcon is Tony Falco’s jazz venue in Marlboro, and it has brought a surprising number of musical greats to the area.

He also said the church will also have to wage an extensive public relations campaign to inform people about how they could help.

For church volunteers and the LDA, that pronouncement came as a blow. However, the LDA and the church are gearing up for May 12 — that’s when the Methodist church will host a Blessing of the Bikes. That event falls on the same day as the Town of Lloyd’s Bed Race.

Kate Jonietz, the chair of the town’s Events Committee, said the blessing and the race will help to make it an all-day event. “We’ll turn that into a town party,” she said.

The bed race will feature — much like it sounds — actual beds with casters or wheels careening down Vineyard to the finish line. The bed race is part of a push to use events to draw a lot of people downtown and support the businesses.

“You don’t have a town if you don’t have all the businesses working together,” Jonietz said. “I think we have an aggressive events calendar for this year. So we’re excited about this.”

On top of the Blessing of the Bikes, the LDA and church volunteers are now planning to hold a flea market as a fundraiser to create seed money for a donation thermometer to save the church.

Vendors interested in getting a table at the church flea market should talk to Felicia Casey, the manager of the Methodist church’s thrift store. E-mail her at feliciacasey@gmail.com. ++