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Gate of Heaven Parish to hold whole parish meeting

July 27, 2011
LANCASTER — A town-meeting-style forum for parishioners of the Gate of Heaven Parish to discuss the possibility of a new parish church and center will be held in the next weeks, parish business manager Kathi Marshall said in a Friday afternoon telephone interview.

Father John MacKenzie, Gate of Heaven's pastor, reported to the July 12 meeting of the Pastoral Council that he had telephoned Bishop John McCormack of the Diocese of Manchester on July 12 and secured his blessing to move forward in investigating the vision of building a new church between Lancaster and Whitefield. At an earlier Pastoral Council meeting, members had given unanimous approval of a vision that would close All Saints Church in downtown Lancaster and St. Matthew Church in downtown Whitefield, likely with both properties to be sold. At present the vision does not include shuttering or selling the mission churches: St. Patrick in Twin Mountain or St. Agnes in Jefferson. The future of the rarely used Our Lady of the Mountains in Bretton Woods is being considered separately.

MacKenzie told Pastoral Council members that he had been in touch with both Pat McGee, who at the diocesan level works on fiscal and other logistical issues and the Dean, Fr. Craig Cheney, as directed by the Bishop.

When MacKenzie asked if everyone was still on the same page, unanimously supporting his vision, two Pastoral Council members — John Brooks and Joanne Dorben, both of Lancaster — replied that parishioners had spoken to them to say they were worried about the ultimate cost of building a new church. Early estimates are that a new church would be designed to seat some 700 parishioners and a new parish center to accommodate other ancillary services, such as CCD meetings, parish organizations, Scout meetings, Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous.

Brooks said that the local economy is troubled, since the area has lost five major employers in recent years, with The Balsams now slated to close for a year in mid-September.

Gerry Pons of Whitefield said that the cost of maintaining two large churches that are both over 100 years old is unsustainable. "Until we have one home we will not be unified," Pons said. "We have to have an open mind to change. It's time."

Tony Poekert of Dalton and Richard Borowski of Whitefield also said that the cost of maintaining the church buildings in Whitefield and Lancaster is high.

Both Cheryl Meehan of Jefferson and Don Doolan of Lancaster said that parishioners must have a clearer and fact-based understanding of the difference in cost of maintaining the status quo and the cost of building a new complex, including the purchase of land.

Marshall said she had purchased a book online, "Before You Build" that discusses what committees are needed, what the priorities are and other important questions to ask before the design process begins.

Pons, who has extensive experience in the construction industry, agreed that many questions would have to be addressed before the parish could figure out how large a piece of land would have to be purchased if the vision is to be realized.

Marshall said that representatives of town government in both Lancaster and Whitefield have asked to be kept apprised of any plans to sell church property.

Frank Caruso of Twin Mountain suggested that priests who have undertaken similar projects, such as Fr. Don Gauthier in Conway, should be asked to share their church-building experience.

Gate of Heaven parishioners are being encouraged to be in touch with members of the Parish Pastoral Council to share their views, questions, ideas, and concerns. A parish meeting will be scheduled as soon as is practicable when most Council members are available and not on vacation.

MacKenzie discussed the lack of unity in the parish, pointing out that having "four separate zones" do not lend itself to unity.

It will take a prayerful approach and "a certain kind of spirit" to move forward in uncertain times, he said. "We can do nothing without God, and prayer is essential for this," the pastor reminded, adding that beginning on the feast of Our Lady of Mt. Carmel, the Prayer of Entrustment will be recited at every Mass. MacKenzie said, "We will turn everything over to Our Blessed Mother."

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