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Gate of Heaven Parish Pastoral Committee favors building a new church and center

July 14, 2011
LANCASTER — The newly formed Gate of Heaven Parish Pastoral Council began meeting last month to work on a plan for its future.

Father John MacKenzie, pastor of the parish that resulted from the merger of All Saints and Saint Matthew Parishes on July 5, 2009, shared with Council members his vision of the future on June 29, according to draft meeting minutes distributed in the July 3 Parish bulletin.

MacKenzie "elaborated on his vision by saying that ideally a piece of land would be purchased somewhere between Lancaster and Whitefield where a new church and church center could be built. Upon completion of the new church we would have a solemn Mass with the bishop at St. Matthew Church (in Whitefield) and a solemn Mass with the bishop at All Saints (in Lancaster) to close them down, and process in a dignified manner with the Blessed Sacrament to the new church. The missions, St. Agnes (in Jefferson) and St. Patrick (in Twin Mountain), would remain open."

Current thinking is that a 700-seat sanctuary would fulfill current and future needs. Meeting space for various church and church-sponsored organizations, Alcoholics Anonymous, to scout troops, would also be needed.

Father John warned that if things were kept as they currently are he would have one Saturday Mass and one Sunday Mass. These Masses would rotate monthly — one month at St. Matthew, one month at All Saints.

But before the pastor could flesh out his ideas of how he would arrange things if substantial changes were not made, Council member Gerry Pons of Whitefield "moved to accept MacKenzie's vision of building a new parish church and center. Council member Cheryl Meehan seconded the motion. The decision was unanimous, with everyone voting in favor of accepting the vision to discern the possibility of finding land and erecting a new parish church and hall."

The Council agreed that the minutes of the June 22 and June 29 Council meetings should be published so that parishioners would be aware of "possible upcoming changes."

A parish "town meeting" will be scheduled after the next Pastoral Council meeting is held at or near month's end.

Fifteen Council members were on hand for this early indication of support for MacKenzie's vision: Richard Borawski, Jim Brady, John Brooks, George Brodeur, Patty Coutermarsh, Don Doolan, Parish business manager Kathi Marshall, Cheryl Meehan, Ken McCullock, Tony Poekert, Ed Quigley, Gerry Pons, Susan Tibbetts, Lorraine Duquette and Fr. MacKenzie. Ann Fabrizio and Frank Caruso missed both June meetings and will be brought up to date.

The merger two years ago took place in response to an already severe shortage of priests in the Diocese of New Hampshire, that is not only expected to continue but also likely to worsen.

The Parish, he explained to Council members, does not have the financial resources to maintain its five church buildings, which includes Our Lady of the Mountains Shrine in Bretton Woods. Right now major maintenance projects include: a $20,000-plus roof at the Shrine plus foundation and other work; fixing drainage problems at St. Matthew estimated at $35,000, plus a new floor and windows; and work to be done on the roof and front and sacristy entrances at St. Patrick.

These buildings must be insured and heated, whether or not they are used.

Business manager Marshall has collated financial information to provide a 20-year record of the total dollars spent on maintenance projects in what is now the Gate of Heaven Parish as well as on routine operating costs.

In their discussion, Council members emphasized that erecting a new building could help unify a still-fragmented parish.

"We're a brand-new entity; we need a brand-new place to worship," said Coutermarsh.

A unified church might appeal to younger families with children, providing them with something to be a part of from the start, as well as providing opportunities for adult formation, Tibbetts noted.

Once parishioners have a chance to form and express their opinion, MacKenzie along with Parish Council members would next go to Manchester to discuss their tentative plans with the bishop. His permission would have to be sought before any firm plans could move forward to build a new church and to sell the two former mother church buildings in Lancaster and Whitefield.

The future of the Shrine in Bretton Woods would likely be a separate topic, since no regular services — only weddings — are conducted there.

"We're at an exciting time in which options are being explored and researched," Marshall said in a Friday morning telephone conversation. "There are a lot of things to consider. MacKenzie is very interested in the spiritual side of planning for the future."

She added that he is going about the task in a very prayerful way.

MacKenzie has also asked parishioners to keep Parish Council members in their prayers "as they move forward in their supportive and advisory capacity, seeking a fulfilling and Christ-centered future for our parish."

Martin Lord Osman
Salmon Press
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