Looking to revitalize community center, Friends of Wendell Meetinghouse launches GoFundMe

  • Alistair MacMartin looks at where rotten beams have been shored up in the Wendell Meetinghouse at 3 Morse Village Road. STAFF PHOTO/PAUL FRANZ

  • Alistair MacMartin, right, holds a rotten beam he has shored up in the Wendell Meetinghouse to show Deb Tyler, Christopher Queen and Alyce Terrien-Queen. STAFF PHOTO/PAUL FRANZ

  • The Friends of the Wendell Meetinghouse, pictured in front of the building at 3 Morse Village Road are, from left, Christopher Queen, Alyce Terrien-Queen, Court Dorsey, Timothy Sheehan, Alistair MacMartin and Deb Tyler. STAFF PHOTO/PAUL FRANZ

  • Christopher Queen uses the new ramp at the rear of the Wendell Meetinghouse at 3 Morse Village Road. STAFF PHOTO/PAUL FRANZ

  • The interior of the Wendell Meeting House at 3 Morse Village Road, which is undergoing renovations. STAFF PHOTO/PAUL FRANZ

Staff Writer
Published: 5/7/2021 5:11:54 PM

WENDELL — Built in 1846, the Wendell Meetinghouse was once a lively home for religious and social gatherings, performing and visual arts and more before closing in 1990 as the church congregation dwindled.

Now, with the Friends of the Wendell Meetinghouse the owners of the building at 3 Morse Village Road, the nonprofit hopes to restore the venerable hall to its place as a center for town life, and as a destination for Pioneer Valley and North Quabbin residents. With that vision in mind, the nonprofit has launched a GoFundMe to raise money for restoration work.

Speaking via Zoom, Friends of the Wendell Meetinghouse President Court Dorsey, Vice President and Campaign Chair Dr. Christopher Queen, and Clerk and Outreach Chair Debbie Lynangale said the group is looking to begin a three-phase renovation project, with the goal of opening the doors of the new Wendell Meetinghouse for Sept. 11 and 12.

“This year is the 175th anniversary of the Wendell Meetinghouse, so our festivities in the fall will be part birthday party and part celebration of the role that New England meetinghouses have played in our communities,” Queen said. “We are already on the National Register of Historic Places.”

To date, the group has raised and spent more than $80,000 on restoration, and hundreds of hours of volunteer work have gone into restoring the roof, doors, windows and belfry, painting the exterior and installing an Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)-compliant access ramp. Now the group is seeking further support to complete Phase 1 of the construction.

As of Friday, the “Wendell Meetinghouse 175th Birthday Re-Opening” GoFundMe, found at bit.ly/2QOgWhj, had collected $5,500 toward a $40,000 goal for Phase 1 costs. Greenfield Cooperative Bank has also made a $5,000 pledge to the project. Completion of the first phase will permit limited occupancy for community gatherings this summer.

Phases 2 and 3 will see installation of a four-season heating and cooling system; adding a restroom, multi-purpose lighting and sound systems; furnishing and landscaping; and connecting to the town water supply and septic system. Estimated costs for these two phases range from an additional $350,000 to $500,000.

Queen predicts all three phases could take up to three years. While the Friends of the Wendell Meetinghouse aims to get an occupancy permit for celebrations and a few programs in the fall, Dorsey noted the facility won’t have four-season heating and cooling until the following year. The Friends of the Wendell Meetinghouse is assessing options for historic restoration of the building’s interior.

“We’ve taken the wonderful old church pews out, and they’re actually being refinished,” Queen said. “I think people are going to be making colorful cushions for them. But they won’t be set up as a normal church is, and they’ll be able to move. … There will be a stage, so for performances in the evening all the chairs, and pews, will be pointed toward the performances.”

According to Dorsey, the group envisions there being “four domains” of the Wendell Meetinghouse: Wendell’s “Living Room,” performance space, sanctuary and “Maker-Learner Center.” The performance space will see scheduled concerts and other events. Wendell’s Living Room, Dorsey said, will be an “intergenerational hangout space” and community center. The Maker-Learner Center will hold workshops and be a space for hands-on arts, crafts and lectures.

“We have a very unique — pretty Earth-centered, pretty deep and maybe a little quirky — sense of spirit,” Dorsey said of the town of Wendell and its residents. “But (this spirit) is pretty strong. So we wanted to have an eclectic process of looking at spirituality.”

Beginning in June, the group will hold “spirit circles,” with different Wendell residents leading hour-long Zoom sessions each Thursday. The speakers include: Queen, Dorsey, Kai Jud, Joe Laur and Sara Shley. They will share their experiences with spiritual pilgrimages, Buddhism, Judaism and “the 12 mysteries.” More information, a schedule and Zoom links will soon be posted at wendell-meetinghouse.org.

“As the pandemic that has paralyzed our society recedes in the coming months, the Friends of the Wendell Meetinghouse believe that a revitalized community center will be the cornerstone for townwide recovery of its social and economic vitality,” the Friends of Wendell Meetinghouse wrote in an announcement for the three-phase plan. “Judging by the enthusiasm and support we have already received, we are confident that, by the time renovations are complete, our vision can be fully realized.”

Zack DeLuca can be reached at zdeluca@recorder.com or 413-930-4579.


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