The Cutchogue United Methodist Church building is for sale.
The historic Main Road structure, built in 1927, went on the market last week as part of an ongoing plan to consolidate Methodist congregations in Southold and Cutchogue and construct a new church elsewhere in Southold Town, Pastor Tom MacLeod said.
In June, church officials closed Southold United Methodist Church and put it up for sale, citing declining membership and ever-increasing maintenance costs. In the months since, the Southold and Cutchogue congregations have been worshiping together in Cutchogue under the name North Fork United Methodist Church.
The Cutchogue church will remain open until a buyer is found.
“There has been a grief issue,” the Rev. MacLeod said. “These buildings mean a lot to many people and they have served the community for years. But more than that, there is a renewed sense of excitement. We are a bigger church now than we were before the merger. A lot of the older members want to move into a new building. They see the vision and are looking forward to moving toward it.”
Since the two Methodist congregations got together, there has been a steady uptick in membership and a renewed sense of commitment to the church among parishioners, the Rev. MacLeod said, pointing to a recent church dinner that raised more than $6,000 for local families in need.
Moreover, it was an “easy event,” he said, thanks to the helping hands of the congregation’s 60 regular members.
“We are stronger with more people,” the Rev. MacLeod said. “Almost everyone from Southold came to Cutchogue. With this bigger congregation, there is a great sense of community. That allows us to do more.”
The Southold church bulding is currently listed for $1.6 million. And while it has received some interest from potential buyers, no one has made an offer. The Cutchogue church is priced at $990,000. The parsonage building, across the street, is priced separately at $599,000.
“The building is in excellent condition and hopefully can continue to serve the community,” said agent Dougall Fraser of Daniel Gale Sotheby’s International Realty in Cutchogue. “There is a lot of potential for the building, whether it becomes a wine tasting room or a gallery for artists, perhaps even something like a restaurant.
“Or, some of these types of buildings have been turned into beautiful homes,” he continued. “There are a variety of options of people to sell to.”
The Rev. MacLeod and his congregation plan to use the proceeds from the eventual sales of both church properties to fund construction of a new church somewhere on Route 48 between the Riverhead Town line and Orient.
“When the Methodist Church was first founded, the idea was to build churches every three-and-a-half to five miles apart,” he said. “Those were the days of horse and buggies. Methodists represented 20 percent of the population then. It made the churches commutable and they were full of people. Today, Methodists make up 2.2 percent of the population and we can travel more than five miles to worship.”
The Rev. MacLeod, who began ministering in Cutchogue in July, previously served as pastor at Sag Harbor United Methodist Church, where he successfully led a similar overhaul.
To rescue that ailing congregation, he and other church leaders devised a plan to sell the aging Sag Harbor building, which would otherwise have required at least $1 million worth of repairs. Denis Suskind, a former Southampton Town councilman and onetime partner at Goldman Sachs, purchased the property in 2008 for nearly $3 million.
The sale generated enough money to build a new church and create a savings account for the Sag Harbor congregation’s future, the Rev. MacLeod said.
In April 2013, the former Sag Harbor church building changed hands again. Sloan Schaffer, an art collector and gallery owner with homes in Los Angeles and Florida, purchased the property intending to transform it into a single-family home for himself, according to a Sag Harbor Express article.
The Rev. MacLeod and other North Fork United Methodist Church leaders hope any buyers in Southold or Cutchogue will preserve the buildings as best they can while re-purposing them.
But they recognize that finding a buyer with those goals could be challenging.
“It is a tough market,” the Rev. MacLeod said. “Whoever bought the church would also have [to have] a big vision on how to re-purpose the building.“
Methodists are not the only North Fork denomination that has suffered from declining membership. Sacred Heart Church in Cutchogue was expected to be put on the market earlier this year after the Diocese of Rockville Centre found that repairs needed to bring the post-and-beam structure up to current safety standards would cost around $2 million.
Anticipating a need to protect historic churches while keeping them commercially viable, the Southold Town Board is preparing to unveil new legislation next week, Supervisor Scott Russell said Tuesday.
The draft legislation would allow buyers to apply for special exceptions in the code that allow new town-approved adaptive re-uses for church buildings.