AUGUSTA — People who attend the small, brick Augusta Spiritualist Church want out of the shadow of the Kennebec County Superior Court building.

They’re looking for a new spot to build a church, preferably somewhere else in the city and in a high-visibility area.

Such a move could make an entire block available for a new courthouse, solidifying the area as a judicial complex. The state court system plans to build a courthouse at Perham and Winthrop streets, just behind the historic county courthouse.

The new building would occupy the entire block except for the 1923 church, which is squeezed onto a 42.5-by-80-foot lot, at Court and Perham streets.

Court officials have approached the church leaders to see if they could come up with a deal. The parties are still negotiating — a $500,000 price has been floated — but nothing is settled yet.

“We’re not going to rob the state,” said the Rev. Earl Wallace, the church’s pastor.

The new courthouse — estimated at $40 million with an anticipated completion date of summer 2015 — would consolidate Kennebec County Superior and Augusta District courts, along with Family Court and administrative office functions now housed in leased space off Stone Street.

The new building also would have a connection to the existing 1830 historic granite court house.

“It would be beneficial to the court if the church could move,” said Mary Ann Lynch, government and media counsel for the Maine Judicial Branch.

Church leaders want a new location that will provide better visibility, handicapped access and on-site parking, none of which they have now.

“I think that it is a blessing in disguise,” said Theresa Clifford, of Gardiner, president of the Augusta Spiritualist Church. “It is time for us to move forward. I’m taking this as a new beginning for us, and it’s going to promote our church more than it has been. We’re the best-known secret in the world. If it moves to a different place, different people will be seeing it and hearing about it.”

They’re seeking 1 to 2 acres, preferably in Augusta, and have already selected a building contractor who is vetting possible locations.

Late last year, the judicial branch acquired property owned by Crisis & Counseling Centers Inc., which was bounded by Court, Winthrop and Perham streets. The $1.65 million purchase price was financed by a bond issue through the Maine Governmental Facilities Authority on behalf of the Maine Judicial Branch. Crisis & Counseling had occupied a 41,000-square-foot building on three floors, including a tunnel connection to the former home of The Copy Center at 27 Court St.

The church building at the corner of the block was built in 1923 with $10,000 from Augusta resident Georgie Staples Davis. The church was granted a charter in 1911 by the National Spiritualist Association of Churches, according to research done by the Rev. Pat Wallace, Earl Wallace’s wife, who is church vice president and treasurer.

All the church administrators and the pastor receive no salary for their service.

The National Spiritualist Association of Churches defines spiritualism on its website as “the science, philosophy, and religion of continuous life, based upon the demonstrated fact of communication, by means of mediumship, with those who live in the spirit world.” Members say it’s possible to communicate with spirits, often in group settings, with the aid of a spirit guide known as a medium.

‘What is best for all of us’

On a recent weekday, Clifford and Earl Wallace pointed out some of the accouterments they want to take to the new church, including a wooden pulpit, wooden paneling around the raised dais and some wall sconces that were recently installed.

They won’t miss the large, square grate in the middle of the church floor that is the only heating vent for the main floor, nor the chill that can creep in downstairs during the winter.

Pat Wallace said moving the building is not an option because it’s made of brick and is so old.

She also said the churchgoers will miss the blond, white-robed angel with a bright blue sash painted on the church wall. It can’t be moved, Pat Wallace said, because it was painted directly on horsehair plaster.

“People keep saying, ‘Can’t we take it?'” she said.

The angel was painted 10 years ago by Lois Tomacelli, of Boothbay. Tomacelli said she would be happy to paint a new angel in a new spiritualist church.

She also painted the sign out front, which includes a sunflower, a symbol of the spiritualist faith.

“As the sunflower turns its face to the light of the sun, so Spiritualism turns the face of humanity to the light of truth,” the church’s newsletter states.

The same newsletter lists progress toward a new church building in a better location. It notes the church, already overshadowed by the existing court building, would be further dwarfed by a three- to five-story building and a possible parking garage.

Attorney Dan Bernier represents the church in negotiations with court administrators.

“We don’t feel pressured, but it takes more work than you think to find a new location,” Pat Wallace said. “At some point we’ll be negotiating what is best for all of us. That’s the feeling I have.”

Pat Wallace said the church membership fluctuates between 50 and 100, but many people come to a 10:30 a.m. Sunday service and they hail from Kennebec, Somerset and Franklin counties.

So far, church administrators have viewed some possibilities, including existing church buildings that are on the market, as well a vacant lots.

Betty Adams — 621-5631

[email protected]

FESTIVAL NEXT MONTH

A statewide Spirit Festival will be held March 17 at the Augusta Spiritualist Church, at Court and Perham streets:

* 10 a.m.-1 p.m. 15-minute readings $15 each

* two 90-minute workshops in the afternoon

* a bean supper; $5 per ticket

* 7 p.m. healing followed by an all-message service.

For more information, contact the Revs. Earl and Pat Wallace at 207-582-6745.

 


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