Bedford church decides to close preschool founded in 1953
"Many of the congregants are very upset over this. They can't believe this is happening," said Gwen Broder, who has been the director and a teacher at the Bedford Mothers' Club School since 1965.
The church's governing body, or session, is made up of 18 individuals. In June, the session decided unanimously that it would no longer house the school following the 2012-2013 school year.
Church officials point to a variety of sorely needed renovations to the building the school calls home. In the 1990s, a new building was constructed between the Old Parish House and the church; most of the congregation's activities are carried out in the new building, while the school continues to occupy the basement of the Old Parish House.
Interim Co-Pastor Michael Carrier said the building is in need of a new furnace, windows and a roof. Ending the relationship with the school would allow the church to address long-term issues, he said.
"The other factor is not just that the physical plant needs attention, but where this church now sees itself going and how it wants to engage in its own education and faith formation among its young people," Carrier said.
Founded in 1953
The school was founded in 1953 by the Bedford Mothers' Club and the wife of the then-pastor as a secular, nonprofit organization that would offer preschool services to the entire town. In the mid-1990s, the club disbanded. The school continued providing low-cost preschool education.
Currently, 20 children are enrolled; just three of the families are members of the Presbyterian church.
Broder, 72, was called in for a meeting in June and told of the session's decision. She said she offered to increase the $500 monthly sum given by the school and to seek grants and fundraising initiatives, but those offers were rejected.
"They have a longer-term mission plan," she wrote in a letter to parents on Oct. 19, "and supporting Bedford Mothers' Club School is not part of their plan."
Amy Klagis, the parent of a preschooler at the school, has two younger children she had planned to enroll. "It's very unChristian that the church doesn't want to support a preschool," she said.
"It's been such a part of the community for 60 years, and I don't really understand the reason why it's closing, (nor) do the remainder of the parents."
Nelia Gibson has been at the school for 14 years. She said she was shocked at the news of the school's closure. "It's sad because I think of this school as an icon for the town."
Frank Rizzo, a member of the church's session, said, "We don't just do good work because we're good people," he said. "We are a Christian church, and our mission has to relate to that."
And money is tight.
"We're not in a position to say, 'Well, we'll just spend $25,000 to put in a new furnace, new windows, insulation, to do the things that that space needs,'" Rizzo said.
Rizzo said the school's place in the church's wider mission was given equal consideration.
"We're trying to figure out how we use our entire space for our Christian mission. What's important here for us, in any plans that we have (for kids of all ages), our focus must be on Christian education," he said.
Gwen Broder, an active congregant at the Bedford Presbyterian Church, has suggested that it continue as a Christian school. Officials say this is a possibility, but it would require analysis to determine if it would be viable.
"I think it will be a wonderful thing," Rizzo said, "if we felt that the Bedford community was so interested in getting back to being a spiritual, religious, church-affiliated community."
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