By LISA CAPOBIANCO
On Feb. 1, 2011, a heavy snowstorm destroyed the roof of Kelsey Hall, a social gathering space of the United Congregational Church of Plainville. The storm also damaged the kitchen as well as the library, and constant rain destroyed every single classroom underneath the 1969 addition of the church. On Feb. 2, 2011, members of the church began their fundraising efforts to help recover all the damages that insurance costs could not cover.
Although the 1850s’ portion of the church remained sound, and no one was inside the building at the time of the storm, the losses to the church still hurt its congregation.
“Devastation is not too strong of a word for what it did to people,” said Pastor the Rev. Dr. Claire Bamberg, the senior minister of the church. “There was no one’s life that was not impacted.”
Mary Fuller, the current moderator of the church, grew up in the church. As a baptized member of the church, Fuller said seeing the damage from the storm “tremendously” shocked her.
“My wedding reception was held in Kelsey Hall,” Fuller said.
In response to the collapse of the social hall, which was built in 1969, the church created its “Raise the Roof” capital campaign, which continues to this day. Since 2011, the church underwent major renovations. Bamberg said Kelsey Hall was completely rebuilt, along with a newly renovated kitchen thanks to assistance from Foodshare and The Community Foundation of Greater New Britain. There was also the addition of an elevator in the south entryway of the church along with renovations of the thrift shop and classrooms that hold at least 95 students for religious education classes.
“The church is the people, but the building is important,” Fuller said. “It is where we come together as a family.”
Between donations from parishioners and communal support from new members of the congregation, Fuller said it struck her how the community came together immediately after the storm hit.
“We were still a church,” Fuller said. “We continue to grow.”
Although the church has come a long way since the snowstorm, the congregation plans to renovate and update other parts of the building through a combination of fundraisers and grants. One of the fundraisers, a spaghetti dinner on Saturday, Oct. 12, will contribute to the campaign to help pay for future renovations. Within the next three years, Bamberg hopes to raise between $300,000 and $400,000.
“This fundraiser is the first of many,” Bamberg said. “By the end of this process, we hope there will not be one part of the church that has not been addressed.”
Within the next three years, Bamberg hopes to complete a number of projects concerning structural support, handicap accessibility and the improvement of community space. Bamberg said she plans to add more sets of turn buckles throughout the sanctuary to hold the walls steady and to provide structural support. She also plans to increase space for the 12 STEPS groups that come from surrounding communities, and to add another handicap bathroom.
“We are trying really hard to take our time and pay attention not so much to cosmetic detail…but above all to structural integrity and planning with a design plan in the future that will accommodate people of all needs,” Bamberg said. “We need to make the church accessible so people understand they are really welcomed.”
The spaghetti dinner will take place from 5:30 to 8 p.m. Admission costs $10 for adults and $5 for children. Children under two years old can enter for free. Bamberg hopes the entire community will step up and help support these future projects.
“This is a town-recognized treasure,” Bamberg said. “We really want to invite the town to become a part of the fundraising efforts that will enable the church to continue to serve the function it has so proudly for 163 years.”