Hermon High School could become the only public school in Maine to host Sunday church services if the school committee agrees to lease the auditorium and two classrooms to a growing Evangelical church for $1,000 a week.
The Pines Church has been meeting at Spotlight Cinema in Orono since March 2021 but with 150 people attending the Sunday service each week, it needs room to grow, Pastor Matt Gioia said.
The school committee is scheduled to vote on whether to lease the space to the church Monday night at its monthly meeting.
The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that school districts cannot refuse to rent space to houses of worship if they rent out space to community groups such as scout troops, community theater companies and political organizations during non-school hours.
Previously, churches have rented space from public and private schools in Maine for one-time events or summer programs. In 2011, The Rock Church rented Peakes Auditorium at Bangor High School for Easter services. The Roman Catholic Diocese of Portland celebrated summer Masses at George Stevens Academy in the late 1900s and early 2000s due to a large influx of seasonal residents.
The Rock Church expanded earlier this year to the historic Hampden Academy, which now is privately owned. Moss Brook Church in South Paris previously met in a school but now worships at a local movie theater, according to the Christian Civic League of Maine. A church that has now disbanded worshiped at a school in Lincolnville prior to the pandemic.
But if the Hermon School Committee members approve the rental plan, it most likely would be the first public school in Greater Bangor to allow a church to hold Sunday worship services in recent history. The Pines Church is non-denominational but subscribes to a literal interpretation of the Bible.
“We believe that the Bible is God’s word,” the church says on its website. “It is accurate, authoritative, and applicable to our everyday lives.”
Gioia, 47, of Hermon moved with his wife, Jess, and six children from Colorado to Maine during the pandemic to plant an independent Evangelical church in Greater Bangor. The family settled in Hermon and their school-aged children attend Hermon schools.
Maine is attractive to church planters because it is the least religious state in the nation after Vermont, Gioia said Friday. He also said that Maine’s high rates of substance use disorder, suicide and depression show there’s a need for faith communities like his to offer hope and a different path than the one they are on.
“Many people in the Hermon community have asked us to locate there,” he said. “This would give us the ability to grow and double in size.”
Superintendent Micah Grant briefed committee members on the proposal last month. Church members would bring in their own sound system, set up and break down equipment each week and clean up after services. They also would use the cafeteria for fellowship after worshiping.
The school department suggested a rental rate of $600 a week, but the church offered $1,000 a week as a “show of good faith,” according to Gioia.
Correction: A previous version of this report misstated the Hermon School Department’s proposed rental rate for the Pines Church and the amount the church offered to pay.