Photo: Joe Zarro, pastor of Plymouth Congregational Church.
To our neighbors and friends in Belmont:
Over the past two years, the members of Plymouth Congregational Church have considered proposals from multiple carriers to install cell antennas in our church steeple. There are immediate benefits to the community from this installation:
- improved reception in the town center and area neighborhoods,
- improved access to emergency services from people without landlines in the home,
- improved wireless for health and other devices, and
- an interior installation that is not visible from the street and neighborhood.
We have one current lease agreement with Verizon, and Verizon has pursued approvals in accordance with town laws and regulatory processes. Our neighborhood discussions made clear that some people objected, mostly on health grounds. Town boards have made clear that health cannot be a reason to deny permits in this case. Multiple health professionals and scientists in our church and this community have assured us of the safety of these antennas. Experts have assured us that these antennas are safe and well within existing standards. Multiple residential and commercial buildings have these antennas in Belmont and surrounding towns, hospitals, educational and other institutions. It is not an experimental technology, but something that has been implemented worldwide for decades.
Plymouth leadership wrote abutters Danny Morris, Ron Creamer and Glenn Herosian, who claim leadership in a group opposed to our project, in January telling them we did not think Community Preservation Act funds were an appropriate or realistic source of funds for the church, but that we were happy to meet to share our research and decision-making. They would not meet with us unless we abandoned the project, a demand we considered unreasonable.
Their recent charge that because of this lease we are not a church, but a cell phone business, is simply wrong. We are being singled out because we are a house of worship. Belmont Savings Bank is still a bank with antennas at their main branch. 55 Hill Rd. is still an apartment building (far more densely populated) with its antennas. The Belmont Police Station in Belmont Center is still a police station with its antenna installation. We will still very much be a church.
Plymouth will be far from the first church to enter into a lease with a telecommunications company: Trinitarian Congregational Church in Concord is a nearby example of a historic building, in a historic district, with a nursery school, which has antennas hidden away in a similar manner.
Plymouth has been part of this community since 1899, and our commitment to mission and ministry here is much deeper than a couple hours of worship on Sunday morning. We support the Belmont Food Pantry, food assistance at the Farmer’s Market and the annual community-wide Belmont Serves. We run a soup ministry out of our kitchen for the homeless and for those in transient housing. I’m president of the Belmont Religious Council and work with other houses of worship to address important issues, such as assistance for refugees being resettled in Massachusetts. Support for these kinds of ministries was in our minds when we signed the lease with Verizon. Our 2016 church budget will give away more than $40,000 to our mission partners, more than we receive from this lease and more than enough to paint the church steeple, for which Creamer and Herosian propose we use CPA funds. We are not a dying congregation trying to keep the lights on; this has always been about doing more as a faith community.
We regret that a small minority of our neighbors have resorted to tactics like questioning our integrity as a church simply because they disagree with the church’s decision to lease space to Verizon. Angry letters have been put on parishioners cars while they are in worship, and I was jeered at by two neighbors when leaving the May 3 Planning Board meeting.
I am saddened that a church like ours, filled with good-hearted people trying to do what is best, has not been afforded more respect during this process. We hope that peace can be restored to our neighborhood and that civility can prevail going forward.
Rev. Joe Zarro
Pastor, Plymouth Congregational Church