LEWISTON — An effort is gaining steam to redevelop the aging Trinity Episcopal Church at 247 Bates St. into a community center called Trinity Commons.

Those involved say the aging church has a shrinking congregation — exacerbated by the pandemic — which has sparked conversations on how to adapt to the new reality while continuing its mission.

According to Klara Tammany, the church’s senior warden, plans are moving forward to redevelop and repurpose the upper level as a performing arts, meeting, and classroom space, while expanding the Trinity Jubilee Center’s lower level warming shelter and food pantry program.

The City Council on Tuesday unanimously approved a resolution supporting the project, and will send a letter of support to the Episcopal Diocese of Maine.

Tammany, who is also executive director of the Center for Wisdom’s Women, a nonprofit affiliated with Trinity, said the parish would continue, but the physical space would be “owned and operated by others for the greater good of all.”

“Church life in our country and our culture is rapidly changing, and the experience during (COVID-19) during the last year and half has really exacerbated that fact,” she told the City Council. “We’ve all had to drastically pivot to new ways of being communities of faith.”

She said Wednesday that funding for the project is still being finalized, but would be some combination of grants, fundraising and possibly the use of historic preservation tax credits. The 1882 church is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

According to a City Council memo, Trinity Jubilee Center, Platz Associates, Hebert Construction and other partners are in on the planning talks. Platz has already drawn up concept plans.

“Our hope is that Trinity Commons will become a vital, accessible community resource,” Tammany said Tuesday.

Tammany said a nonprofit will take over ownership of the church building, but it has not been determined whether it will be an existing or new organization.

She said the project’s primary partners are the church, the Episcopal Diocese of Maine, and the Trinity Jubilee Center. L/A Arts is supportive of the concept and hopes to be a user of the space, she said.

The Trinity Jubilee Center, while founded by congregation members, is an independent entity and operates out of the lower level of the building.

A memo to the council from Lincoln Jeffers, director of economic and community development, said COVID-19 and the need for social distancing “have exacerbated what were already challenging conditions” for the center.

He said plans for the lower level include the addition of a bathroom with shower to serve Trinity Jubilee clients, as well as an addition for food storage and staging.

Officials were unanimously supportive of the plan Tuesday.

“What a beautiful way to keep community at the heart of this institution that’s been such a central figure in Lewiston,” Councilor Alicia Rea said.

Councilor Luke Jensen said, “This would be a really cool thing to see and really fits in with the spirit of change that’s in the city right now.”

Mayor Mark Cayer said the Jubilee Center was an integral piece of the city’s pandemic response, serving the most vulnerable people. He commended the organization for doing it again recently when it offered aid for victims of the recent Blake Street fire.

The council memo said the city could also be involved in the project by providing guidance on zoning and code requirements, and perhaps funding through Community Development Block Grant funds or other federal programs.

In its letter of support, the City Council refers to the $30 million Choice Neighborhood effort, stating Trinity Commons would meet several goals of the initiative.

“The vision to transform Trinity Church into a multi‐purpose building that serves the evolving needs of the neighborhood is in keeping with the goals of the community’s Choice Plan ‘Growing our Tree Streets,'” the letter states. “The proposed conversion of Trinity Church to Trinity Commons will ensure that this beautiful, historic building will continue to be a cornerstone of the community and will complement the other work happening in the neighborhood. The city is wholeheartedly in support of this project.”


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