Cleared site of the former Grace Lutheran Church on Greendale Ave./ Credit: Needham Observer

With a dwindling number of parishioners and volunteers and increasing expenses, members of Grace Lutheran Church at 543 Greendale Ave. made the difficult decision to begin the process of Holy Closure more than two-and-a-half years ago. After nearly 65 years serving its mission in Needham, the members held their final liturgy last September. The church was demolished and the plot was cleared in January. The land will be subdivided into three single-family lots. 

It was an emotional decision for the congregation, said Beverly Pavasaris, co-chair of the church congregational council and 40-year parishioner. The members of the council’s executive committee are now taking the final steps to complete the process of closing the books and the church. Under the umbrella of the Lutheran Church’s New England Synod, the church is required to donate all proceeds of the sale — in this case $2,325,000 — to nonprofit organizations that have or had a connection to Grace Lutheran. The council recently submitted its plans for those donations to the Massachusetts attorney general and is awaiting approval. 

The plot, originally zoned for single-family homes on plots 10,000 square feet or greater, was purchased by the church in 1958 — likely under the exception provided by the Dover Amendment, which exempts agricultural, religious and educational uses from certain zoning restrictions. With the original zoning still in place, Brendon-Mota, LLC. purchased the land, razed the church, and will build three single-family homes. 

Brendon-Mota’s approval-not-required plan (ANR), dividing the property into lots of 17, 571 square feet, 18,000 square feet and 37,343 square feet was endorsed by the Planning Board on Dec. 19. The Brendon-Mota offer was selected from more than 10 bids by vote of the congregation, said Scott Christenson, co-chair of the church congregational council and whose grandfather was a founding member of Grace Lutheran. “There was a potential for it to be a new nursery school,” he said. “Wasn’t definitely houses, and we liked the potential that it could be used as a building or facility. It was also one of the larger amounts, which made our legacy bigger.” 

Although members are disappointed that in the end three luxury homes will replace the church, Christenson said he knows it was the right decision to close. “We couldn’t continue as a congregation,” he said, indicating they were down to 15-20 families, with only 15-30 worshippers each week. “It was getting really low,” he said. The remaining members of Grace Lutheran have gone their separate ways to worship, as there is no longer one church that brings them together in Needham. 

A bright spot in the midst of losing their house of worship, said Pavarsaris, is that Grace Christian Preschool, an outreach of the church’s mission, survived. The director, with support from her teachers, was able to form a new nonprofit school called Wonder Garden Preschool that is now housed at the Charles River Center on East Militia Heights Drive.

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