After the closure of Christ Episcopal Church in Avon, the Episcopal Diocese of Connecticut is beginning the process of deciding what to do with the property.
And that all starts with a community conversation Wednesday night.
“The purpose of tomorrow night’s meeting is not to decide what to do with the church at all," Audrey Scanlan, the state diocese's canon for mission collaboration, said Tuesday morning. "The purpose of tomorrow night’s meeting is to have a conversation about Avon.”
The meeting was initially extended to church, diocese and community leaders, but now the public is invited to come. It begins at 7 p.m. at the 35 Harris Road church building.
Town youth and senior services representatives, Town Planner Steven Kushner, Gifts of Love employees and police are some of the people asked to attend. Scanlan will lead the conversation with Bishop Ian Douglas and Episcopal Diocese property manager Dave Desmarais. The Diocese's Property Committee, which will make a recommendation of what to do with the church when the time comes, will also be there.
Scanlan said that the meeting is an opportunity to erase "boundaries between church and community" and to "begin a conversation and a process of discernment about what is going on with Avon.” That includes assessing the town's cultural and spiritual growth, as well as understanding Avon's assets and challenges.
"In the church today, what we’re really interested in is being relevant in our local context," Scanlan said. "The way we’re trying to participate in God’s mission is being relevant…acknowledging that we’re part of the community."
She recognizes that some people are anxious to hear about what will happen with the building "sooner rather than later."
“I can understand there might be some apprehension about that, but really it is a long process and it begins tomorrow night with this first step in the process that we call discernment," Scanlan said.
Selling the building, possibly to another congregation, is an option, Scanlan said, but it was not the initial plan. Another congregation could also rent the space, but those are just some of the possibilities. It ultimately comes down to the committee's future recommendation and what the Diocese's Missionary Society votes to approve in a democratic process.
"I would say that years ago it was the standard practice that if a church closed, we would sell it," Scanland said. "But we’re doing things differently now because we realized the church is an asset for mission..... We want to use the building as a resource for God’s mission.”
Christ Episcopal's last service on Dec. 31 drew many churchgoers from the region. She said the Episcopal Church "sees itself as one body" and that was evident at the last service.
"There were lots and lots of people gathering from neighboring Episcopal churches that came to support the congregation as it closed," Scanlan said. "There was a sense of unity.”
She described parishoners' mixture of sadness and relief to move on after financial struggles to sustain the church. Christ Episcopal Church was originally in Unionville in the 1800s and relocated to Avon in the 1960s, Scanlan said.
“The congregation itself had grown quite small," Scanlan said. "There were people there who were tired. They’d be doing all of the work for a long time. For some people there was a sense of a relief because there was a struggle for sometime.... While it was sad, we know that there’s new life out there."
Many parish members have joined new congregations. There are Episcopal churches in Collinsville, Farmington, Simsbury and Tariffville.
Scanlan describes Christ Episcopal Church as a "modern worship space" that can fit a couple hundred people. It includes a parish hall and several classrooms. The building is handicapped-accessible and is in "very good shape," she said.
While services are over, there still is some activity in the church. The independent Christ Church Nursery School housed there will stay at the location until the end of the school year in June.
Other programs have moved out. Rhythms of Grace – worship services designed for families with children on the autism spectrum – will now be held on the first Sunday of the month at Saint John's Episcopal Church in Pine Meadow at 1 p.m.
There were also two two Alcoholics Anonymous or 12-step groups using the space for meetings that have relocated, Scanlan said.
Scanlan said it's too soon to say what the future use of the building will be. As for being a part of the community, that hasn't died. The public is welcome to attend the community conversation Wednesday.
"The more the merrier," Scanlan said. “I’m looking forward to tomorrow night."