Girard “What a substantial structure is this, our new church building, with its solid walls of brick, mortar and stone, its well built towers, its massive, artistic, durable roof and all this superstructure resting upon a foundation of solid rock.”
In 1915, those words were written on the bulletin at the dedication service of the then-brand new United Methodist Church in Girard.
More than 94 years later, it is primarily the artistic, massive, durable roof that will keep the building from seeing a 95th birthday.
“There was a major ice storm in 2006,” said pastor Steve Cole. “The building took a lot of structural damage to the roof. It took a while to see the damage. We couldn’t see the damage until we got up there with the insurance company and roofing experts, and we investigated it and saw huge cracks in the ceiling.”
‘Beautiful old building’
The building has been through a lot over its years. Work began in November 1914, after the church gathered the $12,000 needed for construction. The church, built in a Tudor Gothic style, could seat 750 people in the sanctuary.
“The structural engineers said the roof structure was totally destroyed. They said the roof could have collapsed at any time,” Cole said. “We could make the decision to tear the entire roof structure off the building and completely refurbish the building and bring it up to code in some other ways. But it was less expensive to just build another building than to bring that one up to the modern era.”
Chairman of the Board Roger Breneman said the building held up well in its time, but that time has since gone. “It’s just a beautiful old building. ... In today’s standards, it doesn’t meet the requirements,” Breneman said. “Maybe the Lord took care of us wanting to move out. The ice storm bowed the walls and cracked the ceiling. So maybe He knew it before we did.”
Generations have used the building over the years, yet there was little trace of the original tenants during the April 19 goodbye service to the old building. In that service, many members of the congregation spoke up to give their memories. Shirley Burks was one of about two dozen in the congregation who were married in the old building.
“It’s been here since 1915. There have been a lot of people married here, a lot of kids baptized there, a lot of funerals held there,” she said.
Church members recalled stories over the years of events at the facility, including the funeral of one church member’s mother at the building in 1932.
Others recalled scout meetings and junior department meetings while others recounted the standing-room-only crowds packed in the church’s balcony for the Easter sunrise services.
Workers preparing for the old building’s impending demolition discovered a time capsule hidden inside the cornerstone of the church. It took workers a full day to reach the time capsule.
Pastor Cole had to use a screwdriver to pry open the copper box, which contained a church yearbook from 1915, a picture of the church’s first building, which had been dedicated in 1878, a membership roll, a hymnal, a Bible, a Book of Discipline, and a design for the building in 1915.
The time capsule wasn’t the only surprise the building had to offer. “There was a rumor that there was a baptistry behind the pulpit,” Cole said. “We tore up the carpet the other day, and sure enough, we found a trapdoor there to a galvanized metal baptistry.”
In the goodbye service to the old building, churchgoers sang “I am the Church,” which included the lines: “The church is not a steeple. The church, it is a people.”
As Cole opened the service, he noted that the church will long outlast any of its buildings.
“God doesn’t live in a building. He lives in us,” Cole said. “We’re not losing a church, we’re losing the building. The church will continue to live on. We will continue to be.”