In February, ten hosts opened their homes to parishioners for a series of "cottage meetings" about St. John's future as part of our discernment about a capital campaign. More than 85 people participated. Here is a summary of what they said. Those reading online can also read the complete notes from each individual meeting further down the page. If you are not an online reader, we can send the complete minutes from the ten meetings to you on request. 

Thank you all for your participation and your vision for our future!


Summary of Small Discussion Groups/Cottage Meetings

Future Wants/Capital Improvements

Thaxter Hall Re-imagined – update facilities and spaces to ensure better accessibility and usability in support of ministries. Key areas to address include: handicap access, elevator, classroom/meeting and multiuse space (youth, outreach, church programming), bathrooms, hosting/sleeping/shower rooms (?), kitchen facilities, storage, add connection to church, infrastructure (lighting, painting, communications), and sustainability initiatives.

Protect and Maintain the Church – update and preserve the History of St John’s while making it more accessible for all.  Key areas to address include: handicap access, roof, maintenance schedule, sound system, lighting, paint, wiring, safety requirements, bathrooms, environmental system (heat, a/c?), 2nd floor landing space usage, storage options and connection to Thaxter Hall.

Build Our Endowment – increase our current endowment to provide a long term financial resource to support St John’s ministries into the future.

Improve Site Accessibility – improve accessibility and spaces around our buildings to include: Tebbetts House ADA, more parking (build a parking garage?), bathrooms, elevator, sidewalks, entry/exit points, signage and even transportation to church.

Sustain our Future – ensure all building improvements are untaken with the environment and energy savings in mind through: reduced use of fuel, prioritized ecological and financial sustainability from lighting/insulation improvements and low flow toilets, to alternative energy e.g. wind and solar power.

Youth – hire a full-time teen minister/youth leader to support the needs of the many youth and future leaders of St John’s. Explore additional programing for kids, teens and young adults to include: summer programing, bible school, summer choir school, a revitalized J2A program, an O.W.L. -like program (UU teen program about issues youth face today), create opportunities for youth who do not sing or do theater to get involved in the church.

Sexton – hire a full-time sexton to tend to maintenance of church buildings and grounds.

Expand St John’s Outreach – minister to those beyond our surrounding community to include: national and international mission work, refugee work for those coming to US, homeless, Seacoast Interfaith Hospitality Network, Choir School, Common Table expansion, interfaith events.

Coffee Hour is Not Just for Sunday – St John’s parishioners are a fun group with a contagious energy worth celebrating.  Develop opportunities for more social and enriching gatherings like foyer groups, church picnics, parenting groups, newcomer outreach and cottage meetings/dinners to facilitate deeper connections. Consider a guest speaker series, or mini-TED talks, on key issues (religion, parenting, addiction, youth, ageing, etc.).  Update church website photos and create a parish directory (bio, profession, interest, etc.) to broaden connections and networking.  


What are we doing well?  

What are people happy with?

  • Music - Many people mentioned how much they enjoy the parish choir at the 10:00 and other services (one group describe the music as the best between Boston and Portland !); the organ is a source of joy; Concerts on the Hill; The Choir School was brought up over and over again as both part of the music program and as outreach 
  • Children’s programming -  Participants were glad that there are so many children and families; Mentioned specifically were the quality Sunday School (kids feel engaged)and Music Program - the musicals were mentioned, and what an incredible opportunity they give our youth to perform 
  • Worship service/Liturgy - The clergy are wonderful; the lay participants see their role as a privilege; Rite 1 (peaceful and beautiful); there is much beauty in the church; invitation to come to God’s table makes all feel welcome; summer church; praying together  
  • Our staff is excellent and well qualified  
  • Sense of community - people here are devoted; feels like a family; inclusive in word and deed; welcoming to all 
  • Community Outreach was mentioned multiple times.  Some examples are:
    • Choir School - very impactful
    • Common Tables a strong and success ministry
    • Ashes to go
    • Share our space with other groups
    • Salvation Army
    • Economy Shop
    • Crossroads
    • End 68 Hours of Hunger
    • Partnering with schools 
  • Youth involvement is strong here -Merrowvista, Service Sundays, Cooking for Crossroads; our community reaches across the age spectrum, which is not something that happens everywhere 
  • Weekly programming - Men’s Group, Wednesday night Formation group


What do we feel we can do more of or do better?

The following principles reflect deeply held values that participants hope will guide and frame

capital improvement decisions funded by our campaign:

1. Accessibility: This was the only topic in this category addressed at every cottage meeting.  Ideas about how to achieve this varied and were not limited to the church itself. Creating space in the church for wheelchairs and access for them is a value, and seen as part of a larger effort to create better flow among the buildings, particularly the church and Thaxter Hall. To that end, a “multipurpose space” connecting the church and hall could:

·         provide easy access to the church from Thaxter Hall, eliminating the need for adults and children to enter through the front doors and battle weather, traffic and stairs; should include an upgrade systems: electrical, lighting, plumbing etc;

·         this combined with an elevator designed to bring people from the lower parking lot level up to Thaxter Hall would make entry from the lower lot to the church fully accessible to all; concern was expressed both for physically challenged adults as well as the safety of children/protecting all from traffic;

·         provide accessible bathrooms for all adjacent to the worship space w/o having to bring bathrooms in the church itself up to code (wheelchair accessibility), which would use space inside the church;

·         re-imagine the stage as a multipurpose space that is more functional;

·         provide room for socialization outside of the sanctuary so that the church can be a

·         quieter, more contemplative space;

·         welcome natural light into the sanctuary through clever design of this entry/ connector

·         space between the church and the hall

·         accessibility would be enhanced for all by welcoming strangers into our space by providing temporary housing options to augment those provided by Crossroads and other programs in the area designed to aid those in crisis - the ability to provide this service at St. John’s would require multiple, thoughtful facility upgrades

2. Sustainability: Given that a capital campaign would fund building projects, a widely

expressed sentiment was that all improvements undertaken be done with the environment and energy savings in mind -

·         reduce the use of fuel to heat the buildings by improving insulation and using high Rvalue

·         materials; obtain an updated energy audit in conjunction with these plans;

·         choose materials (such as solar roof shingles) to reduce our reliance on external

·         energy sources;

·         consult knowledgeable parishioners and outside professionals to provide input that will prioritize the ecological and financial sustainability of all capital improvements undertaken, from improvements to lighting, to low flow toilettes to wind turbines in the church yard

·         Apart from these building-related values, other things that parishioners wanted to do more of (or better) relate to ministries that would occur in or outside of our buildings. These include but are not limited to the following:

o   develop a program of social gatherings such as foyer groups, cottage meetings or

o   dinners to facilitate deeper, more meaningful connections among parishioners;

o   consider gatherings for people with similar interests: artists, gardeners, crafts;

o   support more creative and visible outreach programs for the wider community, including temporary housing to augment the already successful Common Table;

o   provide expanded pastoral care to the sick, families welcoming new babies and others in need, including transportation to church;

o   provide expanded summer programming for kids through bible school, a summer choir school curriculum;

o   provide an O.W.L.-like program (UU teen program about sex, substances etc) for youth, revitalize J2A program by hiring a full-time youth minister/curate; give youth more of a voice in the service, create opportunities for youth who do not sing or do theater;

·         provide for better cleaning of our facilities through a part-time sexton or another more sustainable solution; weekly cleanings are not adequate to address the heavy use our spaces receive;

·         enliven the coffee hour ministry;

·         make our organ more accessible for members of the community to play;

·         create a parish directory with bios, professions, interests so people can network;

·         refresh website photos of kids (they are dated) - see if parishioners would be willing to photograph special events like Landya McCafferty used to;

·         have a speaker series on topics such as parenting, religion(s), addiction, youth, mini

·         TED talks;

·         provide opportunities to learn about other religions in church through adult fora and visiting clergy;

Overall summary of where we can improve:

Some cottage meeting participants focused in their reflections on ministries that they would like to see expanded and did not want to talk about “improving the building”. They were more concerned with our need for spiritual growth as a community and ways to accomplish this.  Others noted that our “shabby” physical plant is a turn-off to newcomers (regulars don’t see the dirt and poor lighting because we are used to it). They felt the need to refurbish or fully renovate some of our spaces in order to be more equipped to welcome all in the spirit of hospitality and in the name of Christ.

In general, cottage meeting participants felt that we do many things well at St. John’s, that we can improve in the areas where we do well. In many cases, our ability to expand or enhance ministries is limited by our space and can be improved not for the sake of having nice buildings, but in the service of doing our ministries well. This would allow the “outward and visible signs” of our faith to include the accessibility of our spaces, a welcoming and fresh appearance that is not dated, dreary or tired, and a use of sustainable methods to restore our physical plant in a way that will serve us as we grow.

Click here to view the full minutes of each cottage meeting.