For sale: church building in Hingham, traditional New England style, weather vane-topped cupola, coveted Main Street location, congregation not included.
The First Church of Christ Scientist building at 386 Main St. is on the market, with an asking price of $559,000, according to Robert Conrad of the Conrad Group in Braintree, which is handling the sale. Church officials wouldn’t give the reason for selling, but others said an aging and declining membership triggered the decision.
Prospective buyers of the 63-year-old Hingham church include people interested in the property for business, residential, and religious uses, said Conrad, who noted that his agency sold a Christian Science church in Quincy about two years ago to the all-girls Woodward School, which uses it for a drama center.
The South Shore Conservatory of Music, based in Hingham and Duxbury, considered buying the Hingham church earlier this year but decided against it, according to board chairman Michael Puzo.
“We looked at it as a potential expansion site for certain programs,” Puzo said. “It’s a wonderful building, and a very attractive location in terms of being in a prominent space on Main Street.
“But we ultimately concluded it was not something we could take on given other priorities of the conservatory. We were grateful for the opportunity to see the building and be considered as a potential buyer, but it was not in the cards for us,” he said.
Elizabeth Adams, chairwoman of the board of the Hingham church, declined to say why the property was on the market. “All I can tell you is we intend to stay in the area as a church,” she said.
But others said that membership had declined, prompting the decision.
“I know a lot of their members have moved away,” said Jan Parry, who volunteers at the reading room of the First Church of Christ Scientist of Weymouth/Rockland in Rockland.
“It’s too bad because it’s a nice church with nice members. Our church is pretty active, but we’ve had that struggle, too. Members have moved away, retired, gone to Arizona or Florida. And young people don’t seem to want to go to church — it’s the times,” she said.
Karl Sandberg, a Christian Science teacher from Norwell who attends the denomination’s “Mother Church” in Boston, said he’d also heard that the Hingham church’s numbers were dwindling.
“Changing times require changing circumstances,” said Sandberg. “It’s been tough for a lot of churches around; organized religion is not as popular as it once was.”
The Christian Science church doesn’t publish membership numbers, according to spokeswoman Ingrid Peschke. “I don’t even know them myself,” she said.
But statistics from other denominations show a decades-long decline in membership in many mainline Christian churches in the country — with far fewer 20-year-olds and 30-year-olds joining, according to the latest annual report of the National Council of Churches. The exception is at Pentecostal churches, which continue to grow steadily, the 2012 report said.
According to the report, membership in the Presbyterian Church USA fell 3.5 percent; the Episcopal Church, 2.7 percent; and United Church of Christ, 2 percent.
The report said the Roman Catholic Church, the nation’s largest at 68.2 million members, reported a membership decline of 0.44 percent. The Archdiocese of Boston announced plans in January to consolidate churches throughout the region, in part to deal with declining numbers.
In Weymouth, for example, St. Jerome Parish paired with Immaculate Conception to share a pastor and lay councils, while retaining its financial assets and obligations. As a result, spokeswomen for the Weymouth Food Pantry said it is looking for a new home as the parish plans to sell the pantry’s current site, Immaculate Conception’s former school.
Selling church property isn’t unprecedented. In 1997, St. Mary of the Bay in Hull was sold and renovated to use as a private home. The year before, the Hingham United Methodist Church sold its building to the North Street Community Church of the Nazarene. Dedham’s Christian Science church also sold its building, which now houses offices.
Built in 1950, the First Church of Christ Scientist in Hingham sits on a half-acre on the town’s iconic Main Street, a short way from the Hingham Congregational Church and around the corner from Hingham High School.
The white building with green shutters is topped with a tiered steeple and cupola. Inside there is 3,687 square feet of space, according to the town asessors’ database — with a sanctuary on the first floor and classrooms and meeting rooms below. There’s also a large parking lot behind the building, which is between two homes.
The assessors value the building at $481,200, the land at $593,2000, and outbuildings at $13,500 — for a total value of $1,087,900.
Proceeds from a sale of the building would go to the local church, said Peschke, adding that in Christian Science the branch churches around the world operate independently from the church headquarters in Boston. There are 50 branch churches in Massachusetts, she said.
“I can’t speak to this branch church’s experience or motivation,” she said. “They are all democratic and make their decisions together. I suspect this has come about through their own prayers and decisions about the direction they feel is best for them.”
Mary Baker Eddy founded The First Church of Christ, Scientist in Boston in 1879, with teachings based on the Bible and her book “Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures.” The religion is characterized by a belief in the connection between prayer and health.Johanna Seltz can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.