August 12, 2013 01:05AM
By Jesse Buchanan
With an aging and dwindling congregation, the faithful of St. Nicholas Ruthenian Catholic Church in Meriden put their Summer Street building on the market more than a year ago. Their church building will join a number of others in the area that have been sold, mostly to other congregations that continue to use the property as a place of worship.
Real estate agents say it’s not impossible to sell churches but that it can take years depending on the location of the church and whether or not a new congregation can quickly get financing.
Mike Hutnik, St. Nicholas head trustee, has been attending the church since his childhood and the decision to sell was difficult for him.
“It’s been a long time. It’s going to be hard to give it up,” he said. “What I would like is for someone to use it as a church.”
That’s the most common outcome for a church on the market and usually preferred by the seller, according to Realtor Diana McDougall of Southington.
“That’s the ideal situation,” she said.
Churches in residential zones, as St. Nicholas, have limited uses such as a school or community center. The building won’t attract buyers looking to turn it into a hall or business offices, McDougall said.
Churches in mixed use areas have more flexibility but still usually end up in religious use. When the Unitarian Universalist Church at the corner of East Main and Norwood streets was sold in 2002, the buyer intended to turn it into a rock and comedy club. That plan fell through and the owner, Mark Graziano, sold the building to Holy Word Foundation Ministry in 2007, but not before auctioning off stained glass, marble alter pieces and other details of the historic building.
All Saints Episcopal Church at 215 West Main St. was sold in 2009 after the shrinking congregation began meeting at Immanuel Lutheran Church on Hanover Street. The West Main Street building was bought by Rock of Salvation Church.
Dozens of other congregations have made inquiries about St. Nicholas according to the church’s real estate agent Arnold Grant of Hartford. Selling a church building is a slow process since there are a number of decision-makers among an interested congregation and because raising the money can take time.
“You have to be patient,” Grant said. “Churches don’t often change their locations.”
He’s sold about 15 churches that have spent from one to four years on the market.
Ward Street Church of Christ on South Whittlesey Avenue in Wallingford has been for sale for several years. Real estate agent Pat Harriman, of Harriman Real Estate LLC, said there’re only so many churches looking for a new building.
“You’ve got a limited group of buyers,” she said. “Your client base isn’t as large.”
Harriman sent letters to local churches to let them know the property was available. There has been interest for both religious and non-religious use she said.
St. Nicholas doesn’t have pastor. Rev. John Cigan is the church’s administrator and is based out of a Ruthenian church in Danbury.
He said a Romanian Orthodox congregation from Hartford has shown interest in the building for sale.
Ruthenian Catholic churches follow eastern Christian traditions but are under the Roman Catholic pope rather than Orthodox patriarchs. St. Nicholas’ congregation is predominantly Ruthenian Slovaks, according to Hutnik, but the ethnic concentration that supported the church has dissipated over the years.