As of July, North Fork United Methodist Church will have officially absorbed all four local congregations — Southold, Cutchogue, Greenport and Orient — into one regional church.
But what will happen to the historic church building Orient congregants will leave behind?
That’s the question three community groups are grappling with. Members of the Orient Association, Orient Community Activities — which runs Poquatuck Hall — and the Oysterponds Historical Society are discussing how to keep the property intact and in use by community members.
“The community has a great desire to see it preserved,” said the Rev. Tom MacLeod, leader of the North Fork United Methodist Church. “This is their opportunity. We are more than willing to listen.”
Methodists in Orient had been attending the church, at the corner of Village Lane and Orchard Street, since it was built in 1835.
But in March, 16 members of the dwindling congregation voted by an “overwhelming majority” to join NFUMC, which was created in 2014 when the Southold and Cutchogue Methodist congregations merged, the Rev. MacLeod said.
The Rev. MacLeod, who is also the recognized minister in Orient, said roughly 60 members of NFUMC accepted the merger with Orient and will finalize the deal this week at the church’s annual conference. Assets of the Orient church will be transferred to NFUMC.
“We’re looking to absorb the church, not just its finances but its mission and its people,” the Rev. MacLeod said. Services at the Orient church will continue until at least mid-September he said.
Ultimately, it will be up to NFUMC’s combined congregation to decide what to do with the historic Orient church building once the churchgoers leave. But Orient Association president Bob Hanlon said he and other community leaders are trying to give the church an alternative that would allow the building to remain in local use.
“This is right in the heart of Village Lane,” he said. “It really is one of the key buildings there and we would really hate to lose the building and lose the park.”
The Rev. MacLeod said an agreement between the civic groups and the church could prevent the building from falling into private hands, as the former Southold United Methodist Church has.
According to Mr. Hanlon, the three community groups were looking into ways to keep the building in use despite the financial burden it would place on them. Paying maintenance costs would be “feasible,” he said, but having to buy the property outright would pose too much of a hardship.
“Financially, this is a challenge and we’re trying to find creative ways to approach this so we can preserve this,” he said.
Dinah Seiver, secretary and board member of OCA, said her organization has discussed finding a solution to keep the church intact.
“The local Methodist congregation has been so dedicated to their church. That’s a loyalty that’s really quite remarkable,” she said. “The rest of us enjoy the outside of it. What can we do when we haven’t done anything for all these years but now we’re faced with reality?”
Ms. Seiver said the organizations were conducting “preliminary discussions” about how they could save and use the church for events like religious services and concerts.
Mr. Hanlon suggested that special events like the occasional wedding could help “pay the bills,” but said the church would be preserved with the support of the nearby community and stressed that events were one of many ideas for the space.
“We’d love to see the Methodists continue to use it for seasonal worship,” Ms. Seiver said. “These are all the things that we hope to discuss amongst ourselves and with the Methodists.”
But while an old home is left behind, a new one is already in the works. Rev. MacLeod said NFUMC recently closed on a $775,000 deal for 2.45 acres of land on Hortons Lane, where the church hopes to build its campus, pending town approvals.
“We purchased it believing this is the spot that God wants us to build our church,” he said.