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News from the Hill September 21, 2012 | back to index

Congregation dissolves, gives Andover Newton major gift


Andover Newton received a major gift this month, though the circumstances surrounding it were not as unambiguously happy as one might hope.

The check for $50,000 designated for student scholarships came from the former Union Congregational Church in Winthrop, which Andover Newton alumna Kate Layzer (M.Div. "03) served from the first Sunday of Advent in 2006 until the church closed the first Sunday of May 2011.

The church started in 1875 "when a prominent local businessman built an open pavilion for summer worship,” Layzer said in an email. A more permanent structure followed, and formal incorporation came in 1896. "It was a small but active church which did its best to respond to a changing neighborhood, but years of gradual decline final took their toll, and the members made the decision to close while they still had energy and funds to do so with grace,”  she said.

image"With prayer and love, we worked together to draw up a list of beneficiaries, which became part of our petition for dissolution and distribution of assets,” Kate continued. "I remember the day we talked about making a gift to (Andover Newton) for student scholarships. At first, a smaller gift was suggested. But then someone asked me, ‘How much does seminary actually cost?"

"When I told them what my M.Div. had cost me, the congregation quickly voted to increase the gift by a factor of five!”

The gift arrived 16 months after the final service, after the church went through "lengthy legal filings and re-filings” before its petition was approved, said a letter dated Sept. 15, 2012, and signed by Kate and 11 other former members of the congregation.

"It means a great deal to us to share the legacy of our beloved church with an institution that is doing so much to strengthen and build vital churches for tomorrow,” the congregational letter reads (see PDF). "We present this gift with prayers of thanksgiving for all that Union Congregational Church has meant to us, and prayers of hope for each of the ministries that will be touched by its legacy. May God bless your work, and may God bless the Andover Newton community.”

President Nick Carter sent a note of thanks to the church for its gift, and he issued a statement saying, "Andover Newton is honored to receive this generous gift from Union Congregational Church in support of scholarships for students. A portion of their church"s legacy will be sustained in the preparation of a new generation of leaders.”

The sad occasion of the church"s closing is matched by some joy in Winthrop, too.  After the petition made its way through the courts, "We gathered last week for a check-signing celebration,” Kate said. "We read the names of our beneficiaries, steeped the checks in prayers of thanksgiving and blessing, sang the doxology … and then had cake and champagne.

"It’s a very hard thing when a church closes,” she concluded.  "It is in every way a death, and we all feel it deeply. But there is great joy in being able to share our legacy with other organizations, and to know that the lives, the love, the hard work and the generosity of those who had been a part of Union Congregational Church has now gone out into the world in blessing. We are so grateful.”