A growing Bangor-area church that meets at Spotlight Cinema in Orono wants to rent the Hermon High School auditorium and two classrooms for weekly services. Credit: Linda Coan O'Kresik / BDN

Hermon’s school committee will allow a growing Evangelical church to rent Hermon High School’s auditorium and two classrooms for weekly services, but on a month-to-month basis rather than under the yearlong lease the church had requested.

The school committee’s 4-1 vote on Monday caught Pines Church Pastor Matt Gioia off guard, as he had been prepared for an up or down vote on a one-year lease. He said after the vote that he would have to consult with his board and pray about whether to use the space without a year-long commitment.

The church now rents space for Sunday services at Spotlight Cinemas in Orono on a month-to-month basis. Typically, 150 people attend services, according to Gioia.

The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that school districts cannot refuse to rent space to houses of worship if they also rent out space to community groups such as scout troops, community theater companies and political organizations during non-school hours.

Christopher McLaughlin was the only board member to vote against renting space to the church. He did not say Monday why he voted the way he did. Jesse Keith, Kristen Shorey, Hailey Keezer and Stephanie Oiler supported a month-to-month rental agreement.

Oiler said she was concerned about the number of people who would use the building, conflicts with school events and a shortage of custodial staff at the high school. The church’s rent would include payment for janitorial services, as with other groups’ rent.

Although churches have rented space in public schools previously, Hermon most likely would become the only public school department in Maine renting space to a church in 2023 if Gioia agrees to go forward without a lease.

Superintendent Micah Grant recommended a year-long lease but did not have the school department’s lawyers draw it up before the vote. He told board members Monday that if they agreed to offer a lease to the church he would have a lease drawn up for them to approve next month.

Grant can agree to rent space to groups on a month-to month basis without board approval but he brought the matter to the board because the church wanted a lease.

“Six months might be a better test run of how it is impacting our students,” Grant said.

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.”

Brian Walsh, principal of Hermon High School, told the board he was concerned about the perception students might have about the mission of the church and the mission of the school and the school department.

“I would not want students to feel that the church’s mission is now ours,” he said.

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.

“Many people in the Hermon community have asked us to locate there,” he said last week. “This would give us the ability to grow and double in size.”

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.