CUMBERLAND — By the end of the month, officials should know the fate of the 101-year-old St. John United Church of Christ, church members said.
The congregation intends to move out of the historic church in October and plans to knock it down to sell the land. But Cumberland town officials have asked the congregation to delay making a decision about razing the building.
Town officials and church leaders met Tuesday to discuss options to save the church.
No decisions were made at the meeting, which was held in Indianapolis, but it appears both sides are willing to work toward a compromise to save the building, while helping church leaders find a way to pay for a new facility. They hope to reach some decisions this month.
In the meantime, church leaders say they have to move forward with vacating the building and plan to start taking down stained glass windows in the near future.
Church members have been trying to sell the church for years, citing costly repairs the historic structure needs but that the aging congregation no longer can afford.
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 scrambling to try to save it.
Plans call for the congregation to move into 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 then use the profits from the sale of the land to build a new church near the temporary site.
Church officials say they have been asked to give city-county council member Ben Hunter, Brad Beaubien, acting director of the city’s department of metropolitan development, and town officials time to present options for saving the church at a meeting slated for Aug. 31.
“We spoke as a group that we will be coming out with a statement of direction later this month,” Hunter said in an email to the Daily Reporter.
The Rev. Jimmy Watson, who attended Tuesday’s closed-door meeting along with church board president Karen Nauden, said the session was productive but the clock is ticking. Church officials need to make a decision on the structure soon.
Watson said city officials discussed a number of options to attract potential developers for the site, including tax incentives.
“You could tell they really want to make something happen,” Watson said. “My only skepticism is can they make something happen. But I think maybe we should give them that opportunity with certainly a time limitation.”
Watson said he would like the town’s proposal to give church officials the option to continue to look for a buyer, and he hopes the town’s effort to purchase the church doesn’t come too late.
“Even my job security is at stake because of all the monies that we’ve put out, it has kind of depleted our nest egg,” Watson said. “They were hoping to continue with the nest egg so they could continue with a full-time pastor, and that is in jeopardy now.”
“All parties are working together to find an outcome that produces the best result for everyone involved,” Nauden said in an email.
Town officials declined to comment.