Even amid the death of North Christian Church’s role as a center of worship, its devotees and friends will celebrate life. Notices for today’s 11 a.m. final service for the Disciples of Christ body of believers at 850 Tipton Lane even referenced such an optimistic outlook.
And a final note in the bulletin that will be distributed at the loving farewell mentions the importance of carrying “the hope of the resurrection” into the future.
“It’s bittersweet,” said Reverend Lanny Lawler, the church’s pastor from 2004 to 2015 and one of the speakers scheduled for today’s expected 90-minute service. “You have memories of many good times and memories of the global legacy that the church has contributed. And that legacy continues.
“But it’s always sad when a congregation closes its visible ministry.”
Nance Aurand-Humpf, president of the church’s board of directors, acknowledged that the emotions have been rather raw. She joined the 67-year-old church in 2002 when weekly worship attendance remained fairly steady at 115 people per Sunday.
“I think we’ve all been in mourning since February,” she said, referring to the timing of the decision to disband after the congregation dwindled to less than 30 people. “But I think we have now found our way to acceptance.”
Still, she thinks there will clearly be tears amid the rally. The church’s past, and even its very formation, go back to a day when community leaders J. Irwin and Xenia Miller were not only among this city’s most visible champions of racial harmony and equality, but also representatives of this and more on a national scale. The Millers figured prominently in the church’s social justice footprint, according to church history and past leaders such as Lawler.
The former pastor mentioned that the prominent couple’s groundwork, along with the efforts of many others, helped pave the way years later in 2014 for North Christian to officially become what is known as a ” open and assertive congregation” – welcoming people from the LGBTQ population. in all elements of membership and leadership. In fact, Lawler considers the decision to be perhaps the high point of his ministry at the church.
This came to fruition when Pastor Tonja Gerardy, a member of the LGBTQ population, was appointed minister of North Christian several years ago.
Just as the towering 192-foot-tall spire of the famous Eero Saarinen-designed structure soars optimistically and symbolically skyward, so its devotees have aimed in their history to strive for equality and inclusion for all. And they started that way in 1955 at the dawn of the civil rights movement and the dawn of more women entering the workplace and even in leadership roles there and soon in the communities at national scale.
“The church has always been led by pastors who have defined their mission as serving both their congregation and their larger communities, and who have achieved ambitious goals of social justice through advocacy, cross-sector collaborations and interfaith partnerships,” wrote New York architect Bryony. Roberts in a church history report compiled for the prestigious 2019 Getty Foundation grant application.
Church historical records show that the 43 members who left downtown First Christian Church to form North Christian in October 1955 did so to better include women and minorities, to be strongly ecumenical towards others believers and to actively promote more diversity. Additionally, they also wanted the new church to be less “socially restrictive”, as the leaders put it, since early Christian leaders at the time strongly discouraged activities such as card playing and dancing.
Yet, in a push for peace, positivity, and grace, Christian members in the North have cautiously and publicly declared that the growing and developing North Side of Columbus needs a church to serve the people. This seemed true enough at the time as other denominations began to plant churches there.
The 1964 building itself, listed on the National Register of Historic Places, is currently under consideration for the possibility of programming space for the Bartholomew County Public Library. But library leaders have said that decision could be more than a year away.
Former members say they also face uncertainty. Their fundamental question: where to worship now?
Joy Kraft Lawler, a former Christian from the North and herself an ordained minister, finds herself wrestling with this question.
“I don’t know where I’ll go to church next,” she said. “But I feel strongly called to be a disciple (of Christ).”
When architect Saarinen was asked in the spring of 1964 how long a newly built church was expected to last, he told ancient Christians in the North that it should last “for generations”, according to an article in The Evening Republican.