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Retirement prompts update to provisions for use of Spurwink Church

The Town Council on Sept. 11, 2017 approved updates to the rules and provisions of use for the Spurwink Church.

Janet Hannigan, left, Spurwink Church Greeter for more than the last 20 years, has passed duties as coordinator on to her daughter-in-law Theresa Hannigan, right - a change that has prompted the town to update some of the facility's policies. Town Manager Matthew Sturgis and Clerk Debra Lane took Janet out to lunch recently to thank her for her service, and for treating the property as if it were her own.

The changes were prompted by the retirement of Janet Hannigan, who this year passed the responsibilities of church greeter on to daughter-in-law Theresa Hannigan after more than 20 years of service. The church, built in the early 1800s and on the National Register of Historic Places, is owned by the town and rented for weddings, memorial services, funerals and other special events.

"We took the opportunity to sit down and take a review of what we have for current policies and procedures, thought it would be a good time to take a look at some of those challenges that we may have faced and reflect on that," said Town Manager Matthew Sturgis.

Among changes is a provision that legally protects the town in case an event needs to be canceled; and, a more precise explanation of event duration and scheduling. Existing prohibition on throwing rose petals outside the church is extended to all flowers, and nothing may be thrown on the carpet inside the church.

Town Clerk Debra Lane explained that the prohibitions are meant to protect the facility.

Also gone is the $50 fee for a parking attendant, a service which will no longer be provided. "It will be self-parking," said Lane, adding that recruiting parking attendants has been the bigger problem. "We're not really sure who does that and so we just decided - and we talked about this for a while - that self parking is probably the best approach," she said.

Fees to use the facility remain largely the same, except for a $5 increase for the church coordinator to open the church for a viewing. Some councilors asked if the viewing fee, and the restrictions on throwing flowers or rice, may have caused the church's decline as a wedding venue in recent years.

The 2017-18 budget for the church is just over $9,000, with anticipated revenue of $4,700. "What it costs us to operate the building annually is not met by the amount of revenue that we receive, at least specific to weddings," Sturgis said. "The numbers are down a bit but we'll see, that could come back, it could be a cyclical thing."

Between 1996 and 2005 the church hosted an average of 42 weddings a year. Since then, the average has been 17 per year, not counting 2009 when the church closed for renovation. No data is available for 2013.

Janet and Theresa Hannigan noted a trend for destination weddings starting years ago, Lane said. More recently, prospective renters have said they've opted for a barn-style wedding, or a one-stop venue where the ceremony and reception could be held at the same place. "Fees have not been, at least to this point, one of the factors in not having a wedding at the church," Lane said.

Councilors voted unanimously to approve the revisions, but some were concerned that they may be discouraging use of the church. "I don't want to make it so that it's not something we are trying to entice people to do," said Councilor Kathy Ray.