May 20, 2010

Skunks under sanctuary join bats in belfry at First Parish Church

Apparently all God's creatures are welcome here.
Union Leader Correspondent
DERRY – There's a big stink going on over at First Parish Church. For now, Pastor Alice Ling and her congregation are determined to grin and bear it – even if their eyes are watering.
And no, that's not a euphemism for crying.
“We think it happened sometime Monday or Tuesday,” said Ling of the the powerfully pungent unmistakably odoriferous stink of skunk that has permeated the building, thanks to a skunk family that has found sanctuary under the sanctuary.
“We had an exterminator come out. He suspects there's a mother skunk and some babies under the tower,” said Ling, pointing to a place just under a side entrance to the church where there is a skunk-sized gap between some rocks.
“He's been putting up one-way doors, but there is evidence of frantic digging, probably by the mother determined to get back to her babies,” said Ling.
“We could cement it up and seal it, but then we'd have the stench of death along with the skunk smell,” said Ling, whose smile does not betray her state of olfactory distress.
Windows and doors were left open all day yesterday to mitigate the malevolent misting, likely aimed at a predator who threatened the den of kits, said Parker Hall, a wildlife biologist with the U.S. Dept. of Agriculture.
He said mother skunks often make dens underneath buildings, and quite often you'd never know it. But if a fox or weasel threatens her litter, a skunk's gonna do what a skunk's gonna do.
Ling said it's not their first encounter with skunk – or other critters for that matter. They are a church that is as steeped in history as it is surrounded by nature.
“A few years ago folks from the state came at twilight to count the bats in our tower – we were told we have one of the largest bat populations in New England,” said Ling, noting that an occasional bat will fly through the building.
“Fortunately, both bats and skunk are nocturnal,” said Ling, who has been First Parish pastor for 15 years. “I remember my very first Sunday here, I said something during the children's sermon about not liking bats and I heard giggling all around me. Little did I know what was going on in the tower.”
First Parish has a number of programs going on all day every day, hosting a preschool and various community groups. Some of the parents of preschoolers have complained about the smell, but everyone knows the staying power of skunk spray.
As for the skunk family, Ling was told by her exterminator that if her congregation can hang in there for another week or so, the babies will likely follow their mother out into the woods and, with time, the stink will be little more than a musky memory.
“Our sign out front says 'All are Welcome,' and that's the kind of church we are. We're big on hospitality. I guess that has to apply to all God's creatures,” said Ling.

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