Volunteers help refresh faith at Penacook church

  • Kellen Farnham, a volunteer from Indiana paints near the side entrance of the Living Hope Community Church in downtown Penacook on Thursday.

  • Emily Jones (left) and Kellen Farnham, volunteers from Indiana paint near the side entrance of the Living Hope Community Church in downtown Penacook on Thursday, November 4, 2021. Jonathan Hutchins, the new pastor, has spearheaded the renovation project to spruce up the historic building inside and out with colleagues from Indiana. The United Church of Penacook steeple is in the backround. GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

  • Sherry Philbeck, a volunteer from Richmond, Indiana, helps paint the walls of the basement of the Living Hope Community Church in Penacook on Thursday, November 4, 2021. The new pastor, has spearheaded the renovation project to spruce up the historic building inside and out with colleagues from Indiana.  GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

  • Sherry Philbeck, a volunteer from Richmond, Indiana, helps paint the walls of the basement of the Living Hope Church in Penacook on Thursday. The new pastor has spearheaded the renovation project to spruce up the historic building with colleagues from Indiana. GEOFF FORESTER photos / Monitor staff

  • Jonathan Hutchins, Living Hope€™ Community Church new pastor, has spearheaded the renovation project to spruce up the historic building inside and out with colleagues from Indiana. In a remarkable effort, most of the renovations have taken place over the course of one week, with zero cost to the church itself. GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

  • Jonathan Hutchins, Living Hope Community Church’€™s new pastor, has spearheaded the renovation project to spruce up the historic building inside and out with colleagues from Indiana. In a remarkable effort, most of the renovations have taken place over the course of one week, with zero cost to the church itself. GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

  • Emily Jones (left) and Kellen Farnham, volunteers from Indiana, paint near the side entrance of the Living Hope Community Church in downtown Penacook on Thursday. Jonathan Hutchins, the new pastor, has spearheaded the renovation project to spruce up the historic building inside and out. The United Church of Penacook steeple is in the background. GEOFF FORESTER photos / Monitor staff

  • Volunteer Jason Philbeck of Richmond, Indiana cuts wood for the new deck for the Living Hope Church in Penacook.

Monitor staff
Published: 11/4/2021 5:47:06 PM

On the brink of closing, Penacook’s Living Hope Community Church saw a change in leadership and a renovation effort revitalize their aging building and their shrinking congregation.

Jonathan Hutchins, Living Hope’s new pastor, has spearheaded the renovation project to spruce up the historic building inside and out with colleagues from Indiana. In a remarkable effort, most of the renovations have taken place over the course of one week, with zero cost to the church itself.

“They asked me if they could come check out the place to see what they could do,” said Hutchins. “[They wanted to] fix it up and pay for everything.”

Pastor Jim Matson and about 30 volunteers from Community Bible Church in Milton, Indiana, arrived here last week to begin their work on the church, from replacing the staircases, to upgrades such as including accessibility accommodations, like adding a ramp.

Matson started Paraklete Ministries with the mission to literally come along side and help other churches around the globe.  Nationally, they’ve helped churches in Ohio, Wyoming, California and Texas. Internationally, they’ve done work in Nicaragua, Dominican Republic and Micronesia.

And now, Penacook, New Hampshire. 

“It’s amazing how fast, 30 people, what they can do,” said Hutchins.

Living Hope began as a small group of Penacook residents in 1848, where community members gathered to pray and study the bible. The building has stood at the corner of Community Drive and Summer Street for the last 173 years.

“They were going to close the church building and sell it,” said Hutchins. “There was no one else who wanted to come here.”

Hutchins, a lifelong pastor, only recently returned to New Hampshire to renovate the church. Originally from Auburn, Maine, Hutchins takes after his father, who was also a pastor.

“My parents didn’t push us to believe in God,” said Hutchins. “It was a personal decision.”

During his work, Hutchins traveled abroad, moving from the United States to Brazil and eventually Northeast Asia. With his wife, Hutchins returned to the United States to work on Living Hope.

“Right before COVID, I was invited to come back to work in the United States,” said Hutchins. “My wife and I decided to take on the project.”

With the COVID-19 pandemic and tense political climate, keeping the focus on spirituality can be challenging at times

“It has been a hard year in general for pastors,” said Hutchins. “As ministers we have to lead that positive encouragement.”

Though Living Hope has had an uptick in membership since Hutchins took over and began to revitalize the church, it is not immune to the trend of declining membership seen across the country.

“It costs a lot of money to keep these churches running,” said Hutchins. “Churches are not necessarily growing in New England.”

Hutchins’ concerns aren’t without merit. A recent nation survey reported U.S. church membership fell to 47 percent, according to a March 2021 poll by Gallup. That was the first time membership dipped below a majority since Gallup began measuring in 1937.

Despite these challenges, Hutchins’ remains optimistic in growing Living Hope. Despite what he notes are “generational changes” leading to a decline in nationwide church attendance, smaller communities value local churches.

“I have found that a lot of young people like a small church,” said Hutchins. “People in a small community want a family.”

With the outpouring of support from volunteers and community members, Hutchins has hope for the church’s future to act as a “force for good” within Penacook.

“These people have come out of the woodwork to help,” said Hutchins. “That gives us hope. We know our future is secure.”




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