Pieces from the past are reminders to St. John’s congregation as they enter new building, look to the future
CUMBERLAND – After the last resounding organ chord died down, the hall erupted into applause.
It was the first time the congregation of the United Church of Christ St. John had heard him play in over six years, the first time they had heard him play in the new church building.
The move to a new building included transporting a range of furniture, from a desk that was in the next building to nearly 100 overstuffed chairs for storage.
Settling in also meant someone installing the more than 900 pipes that give the instrument – brought with the church from the building it left in 2015 – its range of notes and sounds.
So, hearing the organ near the start of the May 30 church service was one in a series of poignant moments as the church moved into its new space.
“The first time it was played it was another ‘aha’,” church member Rich Suiter said. “It had been (several) years since no one had heard him.
Although the congregation decided to move out of its 1914 building and build the new building it now lives in, the years that have passed between them presented challenges that members did not anticipate when they first met. gathered for a final service at 11000 E. Washington St. in 2015.
One of the challenges was to sell the East Washington building, which sparked an uproar when the first potential buyers planned to demolish it. (See the related story, “The Road from Washington to Prospect.”)
Another challenge arose when many local churches stopped assembling in late March 2020 amid COVID-19. St. John had planned to start broadcasting his services in the future, but he was not doing so yet and had to adapt quickly and find a way to do it as soon as possible, said Rev. Janna Meyers, pastor. from the church.
When the church resumed meeting in July 2020, its space in the activity center building, where it met during an extended interim between church buildings, was limited and could not hold everything. the world at a distance. Thus, the parishioners took turns every two weeks so that anyone who wanted to attend in person could do so. Those who are not in person listen online.
The digital presence launched last year will remain, Meyers said. A tablet next to the pulpit allows her to see a prayer request shared by a parishioner who is watching online, for example, and the church now has an alumni greeting online and shares announcements with those in attendance. join to remote services.
“Everything we do now is digital and in person,” Meyers said. “So we’re going to stay in both spheres.
The building is a mixture of past and present. Energy-efficient motion-activated lighting and an audio system suitable for hearing aids and closed captioning are just some of them. The same is true of pieces from the past, such as the organ and several stained glass windows that were carefully rescued from the East Washington Street building and are installed here.
Some of the pews in Eastern Washington were turned into cabinets for the church’s new kitchen, and the church member who built them even woodcut a logo of the United Church of Christ in them. doors.
Such touches have “helped us feel connected to our old church,” Meyers said. “This church has been a part of the community for so long. “
Like the building, the congregation is also a mixture of past and present. Meyers said some church-related worshipers online during COVID and later came in person. She estimates that around 40 percent of those in attendance are, like her, people who came to church after moving to Prospect.
These intervening years of overcoming challenges and coming together have made the church “more aware of what it is called to do and who it is called to be,” she said.
The building is a big step forward into the future ministry, but church members talk about other mini-steps that indicate they will be active in the days to come. Craftsmen gather in the activity center, working on projects for the church’s holiday festival that returns in November. Suiter said the church is also looking forward to resuming its monthly community dinners later this year.
“We’re not at cruising altitude yet,” Meyers said, “but we’re going up.”
The way from Washington to Prospect
St. John’s congregation began meeting for services – in German – in the 1840s, according to the church’s website. The first and second church buildings were built on the corner of East Washington Street and what would come to be known as German Church Road. Later, a brick structure was built and consecrated there in 1914.
About a hundred years later, the congregation felt the burden of taking care of the aging building and felt they would be freer to exercise their future ministry by doing so in a new space. He met there for a final service on October 4, 2015 and moved to the Muesing Activity Center he had built at 11910 E. Prospect St.
The largest room in the activity center became a makeshift worship space until the church could build a new building on the site. This involved financing, for example, construction with money from the sale of the Washington Street property.
But his plan to sell for $ 2.4 million to a developer who would demolish the structure and build a pharmacy has sparked dismay among some community members and Cumberland town officials. Amid the outcry, the potential buyer – and the next potential buyer, offering $ 1.7 million and wanting to build a convenience store – withdrew.
St. John was finally able to sell the property for $ 1.5 million in 2019 to a developer who planned to renovate the building for new use. With the funds available, he inaugurated his new worship space in March 2020.