Happy Anniversary First Congregational Church UCC, Wolfeboro, NH!
When The Rev. Gina Finocchiaro, Senior Minister of the Wolfeboro, NH, First Congregational Church, United Church of Christ (UCC), was called to be interim minister in 2010, she knew it was a nontraditional situation that faced her. What she did not know is how it would play out over the next few years or how successful would be the work she'd do with the church and within the community. A lot happened between her arrival and the completion of the church in July 2014 and the dedication September 2014. Shanahan played a significant role in the completion, and will continue to play a role in the future.
In the Beginning
As early as 1792, loosely organized church groups were meeting in Wolfeboro. By 1834, a prominent local family had gathered twelve like-minded citizens in their home to formally begin what is now known as the First Congregational Church of Wolfeboro, (UCC). In 1847, a church building was dedicated on the grounds of Brewster Academy. Then in 1912, the congregation broke ground for a new church building. It was the sole formed church in the area at that time, and it served for just over a hundred years as a place for worship and ministry and an anchor in the community-a characteristic of UCC churches, which often served as Town Halls and community meeting places.
Within 50 years, however, the church showed significant signs of age. The building had been modelled after churches built in the Cotswolds of England, an unusual design in this lakeside New England town, and not practical on many levels. Moreover, in the early 1960s, church members made the decision to remove flying buttresses, which of course were weight-bearing, and the east and west walls of the sanctuary begin to bow. In true do-it-yourself fashion, it was decided to get a front-end loader and push walls back into place, hoping to achieve plumb. As the stained glass windows shook and shuddered, the properties committee halted the project.
By 2010, the problems were major. A builder assessed the situation and recommended the roof be ratcheted up, the sides removed and replaced at a proposed cost of $800k. It presumably would take six months to complete. Although church members recognized they had a problem, they believed they had no business initiating a capital campaign to cover costs until the operating budget was solid. When it became necessary to call an interim minister, they wisely sought one who had previous experience in similar brick and mortar issues. Rev. Gina was hired and began the situational analysis and the work with church members to lay the foundation for a capital campaign.
Fast Forward to February 2013. Throughout the prior few years,much work had been done. Through frequent small group meetings, Rev. Gina worked with members to define value, vision, mission and who the church wanted to be in the future. They thought broadly of their desire for flexibility, efficiency of resources, accessibility and hospitality. They developed exacting criteria for evaluating vendors with whom they might work. They interviewed seven architects and notably hired a woman architect who had been to Divinity School and was of the UCC faith. They asked her to develop two plans: one to rebuild, one to renovate. Ultimately they took a ballot and decided to renovate. In February 2013, Rev. Gina was installed as full-time minister. Five days later, the entire ceiling in her office fell, plaster let go and 80 to 100 pounds of rubble landed all over her desk-where just moments earlier she had been seated. When the builder came to inspect, they found that the ceiling had never been properly installed. It was clear, as they probed further, danger was imminent. They evacuated immediately. The building was demolished and they began construction, worshipping in other locations and churches all over the town, a testament to the ecumenical relations forged over the years.
Choosing Subcontractors to Meet Defined Goals
To save money, the church contracted with vendors independently. According to Rev. Gina, they became very good at it. Their committees managed all aspects of the construction, among them design, audiovisual, and finance. Rev. Gina was the only woman on the committees, which posed its usual challenges. Soon, however, with the hiring of a female project manager and the presence of the woman architect, the impact of women leadership was strong. Finding that Shanahan was a woman-owned company, says Rev. Gina, was a "surprise, and a real asset." In interviews with other companies, "one was worse than the next; most could not even look me in the eye. That did not happen in the Shanahan interview."
"Our process was very methodical; we had 300 people to answer to. When we analysed the issues of the old building, the two primary complaints were that it was dark and NO ONE COULD HEAR. In our faith community there is a profound connection to both the spoken word and to music. We use a lot of a cappela in our programming. So, it was an absolute specific that sound was very important."
"For us, cost was important, but was last on our list. Our list criteria for vendor selection included compatibility, accessibility, effective communication, and a particular knowledge of churches whose suggestions were seen as informed and knowledgeable. Of the five companies the committee interviewed, based on this list of imperative criteria, Shanahan rated the highest, "by a LOT." Rev. Gina says: "The greatest sense of compatibility, hands down, went to Shanahan. They completely met our expectations, were very easy to work with, were terrific problem solvers and helped us to phase our planning (we are in phase one). Most importantly, we are fully prepared for the future, and we cannot wait to work with them for the next phases. One of the things we most appreciate about Shanahan is how, in the phasing process, they helped us repurpose existing equipment so it blended with the new. What company does that? From day one, the resulting sound has been exquisite. Because of Shanahan we also are enjoying sound in other parts of the building, such as the function hall. With Shanahan's help, it was smart and easy to have a system that can run independently in the Sanctuary but connect when and if necessary. Our digital carillon was installed with new horns to really project the sound of bells. It plays hymns and chimes the hours. The sound is clear and wonderful. Not long after we began to worship in our new home, one of our largest donors, told me after service that she had 'left her ears [hearing aids] at home.' We are the only place in town with hearing loop technology. We have two loops. Suddenly we are the vanguard with others thinking about following suit. We have been able to pass along information about assistive hearing technology to other church leaders. We strongly recommended Shanahan. I would propose, that says it all!!"
The main sanctuary, incorporated Shanahan's usual attention fordetail in aesthetics and sound quality. Our engineers paired JBL's CBT line array speakers with sound processors from DBX to deliver an uncompromised level of sound that can be enjoyed throughout the entire space. The result was nothing short of impressive and the streamlined look of the JBL speakers do not detract from the beautiful woodwork detailing that went into the building's construction process.
The hearing loop was the final touch that took the First Congregational Church's system to the next level. The loop was able to be installed under the hardwood flooring before it was laid down; this is always the best time to consider the addition of a hearing loop and allows for the technology to remain invisible to the eye. Once calibrated, the loop induces an even magnetic field throughout the sanctuary to allow the hearing impaired to use T-Coils within their hearing aids to hear a direct feed from the audio system. By being able to eliminate unwanted ambient sound, hearing loop users can now hear better than ever while attending services at the church.