Historic church conducts moving sale; demolition on horizon

CUMBERLAND — Barbara Moser placed the heavy stack of hymnals in a row beside the others on the rack.

The collection of beloved gospel tunes joined a plethora of items — old books, pews, sofas and more — up for grabs during a moving sale at the historic St. John United Church of Christ last weekend. Church members, who have been at the center of a town controversy over their plans to tear down the 101-year-old structure, say unloading the excess items is a must on their path to moving on.

Church officials conducted the first of two moving sales last weekend. They plan to vacate the old church, which they have been trying for years to sell despite protests from town officials, and move into a temporary building sometime in October. Members cite costly repairs the historic structure needs but that the aging congregation can no longer afford.

Putting items up for sale during the weekend was bittersweet for church members who helped organize the event.

“Do you know how many songbooks a church collects through the years?” Moser said with a laugh.

After a deal with a developer who planned to raze the church and build a gas station on the site recently fell through, church officials announced they would knock down the building; meanwhile, town officials are still scrambling to try to save it.

Town officials, along with city-county councilman Ben Hunter, are meeting with church officials Tuesday in Indianapolis to discuss potential plans to save the building.

This comes at the same time church officials say they already have several bids from demolition companies to knock the structure down.

Church officials plan to conduct the last service at the church sometime in October.

The Rev. Jimmy Watson’s wife, Annie Watson, said church members are ready to move forward.

“If it means demolishing the building, and I hate to say that, … that is what the congregation might have to do,” she said.

Her husband, whose desk top is full of moving boxes, said church leaders might have no choice but to destroy the church in order to move forward.

“Our real-estate guys are telling us we will have a better chance of selling the property if this building is not here,” he said.

Plans call for the congregation to move into a a temporary building in Cumberland that is nearly ready. Once congregants move out of the old church, and it is knocked down, church officials will than use the profits from the sale of the land to build a new church near the temporary site.

They will then have one more moving sale before taking down the stained-glass windows and other valuables, placing them in storage until the new church is built, said church board president Karen Nauden.

“We are going to demolish this building and salvage everything we can,” Nauden said. “We already have offers on several of the pews.”

Town officials said they hoping something can be done to save the church but have no concrete plans.

Town manager Andrew Klinger said he thinks town officials can promote the property in a way that allows a buyer to develop the site while preserving the church.

Town councilman Mark Reynolds said there must be an open line of communication between the two parties.

“I think it is going to take a little while,” Reynolds said.

Still, church leaders say they’re tired of Cumberland officials delaying the inevitable.

Nauten said they’ve grown weary of waiting for town officials to make a move, something they had an opportunity to do during the past 10 years as the church fell into disrepair but didn’t.

Church officials know they will take some heat if the building comes down.

“I guess we’re going to be blamed for leveling the last historic structure in Cumberland,” Nauten said.

“But, at this point we really don’t have a choice,” the Rev. Watson said. “We can’t stay here any longer.”

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Kristy Deer is a reporter at the Greenfield Daily Reporter. She can be reached at 317-477-3262 or kdeer@greenfieldreporter.com.