Brouhaha At Church Prompts Questions

Danny Butler-Mackay said she remembered chuckling when she told her 15-year-old daughter Jessica to be careful at the party. After all, it was being held at a church.

Butler-Mackay, a Cambridge resident, told the Cambridge License Commission last night that she assumed the Old Cambridge Baptist Church would be supervising the event held in its parish on Jan.4.

However, "that was not the case," she said. "There were no adults there."

In an impassioned statement to the commission, Butler-Mackay related the events of the evening as she understood them from her daughter and her daughter's friend, identified only as Rachel, a 17-year-old.

According to Butler-Mackay, Jessica and Rachel, students at Cambridge Rindge and Latin School, were standing outside the church when two drunk men became angry at being refused entrance to the party. The men allegedly pried a block of granite from the steps of the church and hurled it at the door-man who had barred them from entering.

The stone missed its mark, hitting Jessica instead, according to Butler-Mackay. Rachel carried her friend, who was bleeding from a large gash on her head, into the church and tried to remember the first aid she had learned, Butler-Mackay continued.

Finding no adult help at the party, which continued all the while, Rachel carried her friend across the street, where she saw police officers on duty. Then she called Jessica's parents.

"Still, still, still there was no adult," said Butler-Mackay.

The commission last night heard statements from Butler-Mackay and church officials. It is weighing whether to tighten the procedures under which the church and other groups can rent out their facilities for dances and social events.

According to church administrator Kelly A. O'Connell, Old Cambridge Baptist Church rents its parish on the weekend--often for dance parties with DJs--to raise money to keep the 127-year-old structure from crumbling.

But until recently, it didn't have a policy of supervising the events.

She said she didn't know that the lessee, who was not named during the commission hearing, needed to obtain a one-day entertainment license in order to charge admission.

The lessee hadn't applied for the permit--leaving the church responsible.

O'Connell, who came to her position five months ago, said she was "very frustrated" at not knowing what the law requires.

"What we're dealing with here is a really unfortunate accident, and there could be some really unfortunate ramifications for the church," she said.

In the meantime, the church is unable to rent the facility for events that require licenses, and it stands to lose roughly $3,300 in revenue, according to O'Connell.

Commissioners expressed surprise at O'Connell's statements that the church tries to rent the parish every weekend, with roughly 40 percent of its lessees seeking to serve alcohol.

"Now the church has gone from being a church to being a disco every Saturday night," said Commission Chair Benjamin C. Barnes.

During a separate function the night before the injury occurred, Cambridge police were called to the scene to respond to complaints by neighbors that 150 to 200 teenagers were milling around in the streets in front of the church at 1:30 a.m. According to representatives of Laygo Entertainment, which put on that event, organizers closed the party at 10:30 p.m. when a drunk man sought admission and refused to leave, creating a disturbance.

But the guests remained in the vicinity.

"It's not our responsibility once they're in the street," said event organizer Paul Mallebranche.

Barnes disagreed, "What we say is your responsibility, that is your responsibility."

In response to the two incidents, city Police Captain Henry W. Breen motioned for a disciplinary hearing to be held Feb. 11. He also motioned to tighten commission regulations.

"You can delegate authority, but you can't delegate responsibility," he told church officials.

If he gets the way, the church and any other renter with a history of rule violations or injuries on the premises would have to appear before the commission before renting out their facilities--a dramatic change from the current policy under which commission employees can approve licenses during business hours with little complication.

The commission voted to take the matter under advisement and is expected to render a decision Feb. 27