Freedom to Move

St. John UCC, Indianapolis

The Indianapolis Star reports that a downtown UCC church is suing the city after being coerced into maintaining and preserving its building.  The congregation had arranged to sell the building and move to a new location to further their mission.   The new owner planned to demolish the church.  But the building was given an historic designation by the city to prevent its being demolished, and the sale fell through. 

The lawsuit will cite religious freedom as grounds for the sale and demolition of the building. 

Here’s the link to the Indianapolis Star article:

I studied architecture in college, and I dearly love old buildings.  They give character and life to cities now full of metallic sky scrapers and ubiquitous big box stores.  I have always been one of those “Save the Old Buildings!” people.  But the church’s mission is to make disciples, and I love that mission even more than I love great architecture. 

We have a beautiful old barn on our farm, built in 1929.  I can sit up in the loft and marvel at the labor involved in erecting such a thing at a time when the work was done primarily by hands and horses.  But the fact is, our barn is falling down. It no longer suits the needs of our working farm, and we can’t afford to maintain it just so the tourists can drive by and enjoy the scenic vista.  Someday we will have to invest in tearing it down.  Hopefully, we can rescue the beautiful lumber for another use.

How can a community honor an historic building like a downtown church without putting the burden on just a few people, especially people who may be called to a mission other than architectural preservation?

On the other hand, what if every church that left the inner city allowed its buildings to be demolished?  Church buildings provide a type of “sanctuary” for the spirit, the eye and the body, that simply cannot be found anywhere else.

One church I know of was lucky to find a buyer who wanted to preserve their beautiful building.  When the congregation disbanded, the building was sold to an advertising agency that honored its glorious architecture and windows.  The new owners gutted and retro-fitted the interior space.  But the original skeleton, with its gorgeous windows and trusses, was preserved.  Although it would no longer be used as a sanctuary, the downtown community was able to enjoy it as an historic landmark.     

Another church I know of demolished their building and built senior housing on the property. 

If your building was not a church, what would it be?  If your building was demolished, what might God want to have standing in its place? 

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