Thursday, May 28, 2015

Historic Partnership:Your Theatre and the First Baptist Church...

First Baptist Church in New Bedford, Massachusetts
The Mass Cultural Council recently awarded Your Theatre $20,000 for a theatre reuse study of the First Baptist Church abutting City Hall.  WHALE was awarded an additional $10,000 from the National Trust for Historic Preservation to contribute towards the study.  WHALE will act as a project consultant and partner during the study assisting in the feasibility analysis and identification and application to development funding sources.

The project’s purpose is to perform a planning and architectural study of a theatre reuse at the historic First Baptist Church building (where Robert’s Rules of Order were first conceived) while also allowing the First Baptist Congregation to retain space for their services and mission work.  Architectural work would include plans for the rehabilitative re-use and preservation of this iconic New Bedford landmark by transitioning it into performance space. The meetinghouse was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1975 and is in need of immediate restoration and preservation.

As an added venue in the downtown, the theatre will enhance the vibrancy of the streetscape by bringing a historic building back to life, attract several thousand more potential customers for the restaurants and other businesses that populate the downtown area, and build upon the city’s revitalization which both the visitor and residents’ alike enjoy.  The project will be another symbol in the Downtown New Bedford Historic District showing that reuse and restoration of historic buildings is central to the cultural and economic revitalization of the community.


Facilitate a shared use partnership of this historic church in the heart of New Bedford’s downtown as joint worship space for the congregation and performance and support space for a community theatre organization seeking a permanent home.


Since 1829, the First Baptist Church has been a visual and historic landmark in downtown New Bedford; the intact Greek Revival Meeting House anchors one of the four corners of City Hall Square. Its towering steeple was a landfall for whaling ships returning to port and remains an icon today. The Church is known nationally for one of its former members, Lt. Henry Martyn Robert of “Robert’s Rules of Order” fame, as it was at a raucous meeting at the church where the need for such rules became clear. With support from the Waterfront Historic Area League and the City of New Bedford, the current congregation is exploring a partnership with a prominent local theatre company in which each would call the church home and share in the building’s stewardship. This creative partnership is a model for the challenge faced by thousands of congregations across the country who are caring for significant buildings in need of extensive work.

National Significance

Originally constructed in 1829, and modified in the 1840s and 1850s, the First Baptist Church remains a fine example of Greek Revival architecture. Of the four steeples illustrated on the City’s seal, the First Baptist steeple is the only one that survives. The Church is nationally and even internationally known as the place where “Robert’s Rules of Order” was established. After moderating a particularly chaotic meeting at the church about defending the City’s port, church member Lt. Henry Martyn Robert forever changed how meetings are run around the world through his Rules of Order. Early pastors, including Reverend John Girdwood, are linked to the abolitionist movement, although additional research is required in this area.


Your Theatre, Inc. is a non-profit, volunteer, community theater group in New Bedford, Massachusetts. Founded by Mary A. Smith in 1946, the group has been in continuous operation since, and produces five or more shows each season.


The Members Council Meeting is scheduled for Thursday, May 28th at 7:00 p.m. to be held at:

First Baptist Church
149 William Street
New Bedford, Massachusetts 02740

I will be in attendance at this meeting as I am a community volunteer as well as a subscriber involved in set construction for the 68th Season at Your Theatre and have joined the Members Council at this historic time for Your Theatre, Inc. and First Baptist Church in New Bedford.

Joseph David Henry Ware Bryan-Royster

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