- Associated Press - Monday, October 24, 2016

HATFIELD, Mass. (AP) - Bob McGovern, owner of Packard’s pub in downtown Northampton, will tell you that he doesn’t need to go to church - he lives in one.

It’s a charming, white chapel on a street shaded by maple and sycamore trees in the heart of Hatfield.

The high arches of the former St. John’s Lutheran Church witnessed decades of pastors preaching, bridal parties rejoicing and funeral mourners grieving. It’s hard to imagine how many people walked through the narrow, red front doors over the years.

Today, if you walk inside, you’re visiting Bob and Kimi McGovern.

“I always wanted a church or a fire station,” McGovern said in a recent interview as he showed off his home. “They are always built so well,”

When he bought the old church in the early 1980s, he constructed a basement apartment to live in with Kimi, and their baby daughter, Brittany. Their intention was to one day fix up the main floor of the church.

It took 30 years to get going.

First there were the typical financial obligations of a young family, then a child going off to college and responsibilities connected to aging parents.

But two years ago, the moment arrived.

“It’s just the right time,” Bob McGovern said. “It’s the last big project.”

It’s a modest building with a crooked golden cross perched on top of the steeple, set a few dozen feet back from the road on Main Street.

McGovern says a church like this one is the perfect canvas for building his dream home.

“It’s like buying a kit - they give you the rough space,” he said.

The couple is transforming the church’s main floor into a proper three-bed room home with an island in the kitchen.

“It’s potentially exciting,” said Kimi, but progress has been slow and costly; they’ve been chipping away at the renovations since getting started. “I’ll believe it when I see it,” she said.

But if all goes as planned, they expect to be done by Christmas of next year, said Bob.

“All good things take time,” he said. “When it’s done it will be nice.”

The McGoverns aren’t the only ones in town with the idea of transforming a church, no longer feasible for worship, into something else. Another Hatfield Lutheran church was converted into a restaurant called Holy Smokes BBQ and Whole Hog House in 2003, but was destroyed by a fire in 2007.

Just down the road at 79 Main Street, there is Catholic church for sale.

In neighboring South Deerfield, one church, which was both a home and a bookstore for a number of years, is now back on the market. And farther afield in Stockbridge, of course, there is the salvaged old church turned into a home celebrated in Arlo Guthrie’s famous song, “Alice’s Restaurant.”

“Its great that a historical building can be repurposed instead of being taken down, so that people can still walk by and see that it was a church,” said Kathie Gow of the Hatfield Historical Society.

She says that McGovern’s home, as St. John’s, was once the gathering place of a congregation of Slovak families.

While it might seem counterintuitive to tackle the church renovation now that their daughter is grown and out of the house, Bob McGovern doesn’t see is that way.

“Most people downsize as they age,” said Kimi McGovern. Bob, on the other hand, who is 71, appears to have the energy of teenager.

Sometimes he chips in with the labor, like pulling old wiring from the walls. After hours and hours working in this space, the contractors started to call him “Reverend Bob.”

So far, carpenters have stripped the building’s insides to the bones, installed a few skylights and redone the roof. The outside of the building got a new paint job.

All the wooden beams are exposed. The walls are waiting for sheetrock and foam insulation. Ladders and tape measures and bits of sawdust are scattered about. Hand-cut nails are being pulled from the walls.

Two of the stained glass windows were blocking out the light, so McGovern had them removed and is thinking of building them into the walls with a back light.

He has a number of creative ideas to keep the glass. “You could even make a coffee table out of it with a light under it,” he said looking down at one of the windows leaning against the wall. “I’d like to keep it since it was a part of the church.”

Each window depicts a life-sized image of Jesus. One image shows him in a green meadow under a blue sky, cradling a sheep in one arm and a walking stick in the other.

The second shows Jesus, draped in blue robes and standing on a purple cloud. Rays of golden light are beaming around his head.

“I used to like to back light it during Christmas time. It’s really pretty,” McGovern said.

He thought about having his face painted over Jesus’ and then hanging the altered stained glass inside Packards but quickly decided against it, not wanting to offend anyone.

McGovern is a self-described collector of junk. He likes to go hunting for treasures at antique shows and loves the idea of reusing things that might otherwise be discarded.

Right now he is searching for the perfect chandelier to hang in the center of the house.

“You can always find something funky if you look long enough,” he said. He prefers to buy furniture at auction than at stores.

Before he can think too seriously about furnishings, though, there is still major work to do.

The church is already segmented with 2-by-6-inch wooden planks, framing a skeleton of the airy floor plan that the McGoverns imagined.

Since they donated the pews years ago to a church in Springfield, the space is mostly open with a 24-foot ceiling.

Two bedrooms, the kitchen and an office are planned for the first floor.

The master bedroom will be on a loft, high above where worshipers once gathered. Through the back window, there is the view of a cornfield.

A glass wall on the ledge of the master bedroom will keep the space open.

“From here, we will have a view of the rest of the church,” McGovern said, standing on the unfinished bedroom floorboards.

A small library is planned for a second loft near the front entrance of the church, where the organist once played.

“You can come up here and get away from it all,” he said. “I wanted to put a zip line, too, but my wife said ‘no.’ “

As you walk through the church, you’ll see exposed electrical wiring. There is no kitchen or bathroom, yet.

Since they expect everything to be completed around the winter holidays of next year, McGovern wants to get a big Christmas tree to mount in the front of the house.

“My daughter always wanted a 20-foot Christmas tree,” he said. “Yeah, we can do that once. Only once though.”

The end of construction and the beginning of their lives in their newly renovated home will be marked by an open celebration, where anyone who is curious will be welcome to take a look around, McGovern says.

“I just can’t wait to finish. It will feel good when it’s done.”

___

Information from: Daily Hampshire Gazette (Northampton, Mass.), http://www.gazettenet.com

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