By Ruby Pratka
Local Journalism Initiative
The Knowlton United Church building has been sold to a real estate developer – but not for the reason one might think.
“My heart dropped when I saw it listed,” the buyer, Mohamad Kamaredine, told the BCN. “We all know the value of this church to the community, and the first thing that popped into my head when I saw it listed was that someone might buy it and convert it.”
Kamaredine, who is originally from Lebanon, divides his time between Florida and Knowlton, where he purchased a historic house near the church several years ago.
The Knowlton United Church congregation, the Knowlton Community Players and other community groups using the church will be able to keep doing so until further notice, Kamaredine said. “I don’t know what I’ll do with the building yet…there will be some fundamental changes, but the most important thing is to maintain it and preserve the heritage,” he said. “We do want it to stay a community building.” He said the Brome County Historical Society may have a role in the building’s future vocation.
Knowlton United Church pastor Steve Lawson said Kamaredine had “honoured our hope” that the congregation could remain in the building. “His main interest is restoring and preserving heritage buildings, and he already owns a building in town where he’s done that. His offer met all of our conditions.”
The 130-year-old landmark church had been on sale since late June. Neither party disclosed the sum paid for the building. Lawson said the sale, which is expected to be finalized in the next few weeks, “couldn’t have turned out much better.”
“We – the church board of trustees – started talking about the building’s future in 2018. This is five years of work coming to fruition in the best way possible,” he said. “We want to continue as a church, and we would have found a way to do that without the church building – we would have found a place to rent – but now our congregation can stay in the building for at least another year. We’re feeling very positive about it. Nothing has changed for now, except that we’re no longer burdened with the cost of maintaining the church. That’s the reason we sold – we no longer had the resources [to pay for the upkeep].”
“Some people asked, ‘Why don’t you sell it for a dollar to the town?’ But if we had done that, the cost of continuing to run the church would have still fallen on us,” Lawson added.
Lawson said that in addition to Sunday services, church celebrations and lunches, the church is regularly used by the Knowlton Community Players and the Community Wellness Group, and serves as a practice and performance space for local musicians. He said the historic building’s story is still being written. “It’s an ongoing story and so far our expectations and hope are being realized. It has a lot of meaning to us, but we were ready to move on if we had to,” he said.
Kamaredine fell in love with Knowlton several years ago and hopes to retire there eventually. “It’s peaceful and laid-back, the nature is beautiful and there is a lot of local history. Every season is unique… everyone knows everyone here, and it's peaceful, safe and friendly.” He said the church building is “a gorgeous building with a lot of history.”
“Every time you see a picture of Knowlton, the church is there. It’s the face of Knowlton. That says a lot.”
Brome County Historical Society executive director Denis Piquette was not immediately available to comment on the sale.