Earlier this year, the congregation of Trinity, Newark, began the painful process of demolishing their 125-year-old sanctuary, auditorium and chapel due to structural damage. In an ongoing Connections’ series, “The Journey Toward Our Future,” the people of Trinity will share with us the story of how they came to this impossible decision and the journey to their new future as the Episcopal Church in Newark, Ohio.
Part 2: Demolition
For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven. Ecclesiastes 3:1.
Our journey toward demolition at Trinity began with the painful realization that our only path forward meant saying goodbye to our sacred and beloved sanctuary, chapel and Baker Auditorium, so aptly named after a former rector, the late Rev. Jack Baker, whose dismissal every Sunday was “keep the faith, be the Church, Alleluia.” As we began the process, I was tasked with researching information from liturgical and ecclesiastical companies that performed demolition and/or salvage of buildings and their old and treasured contents. From August through September 2017, I spoke with 11 demolition and salvage companies, as well as a television production company.
My family has five consecutive generations, baptized and confirmed, “cradle-to-grave” members at Trinity, beginning with my grandfather at age ten in 1906. On many of the calls I was able to state my name, but as I began to state my purpose for the call my voice would quiver and crack, and at times I could not hold back the tears with total strangers on the other end. All were patient, many offered compassion and sympathy, and some, after a period of silence said, “we know about your church.”
We met with a company from Pennsylvania at the end of September and they offered us a proposal whereby they purchased our Tiffany “Ascending Christ” window for a price that equaled the cost of the demolition. The company would salvage and sell the remaining contents and windows with a percentage of the sales coming back to Trinity. After eight revisions, we signed the proposal in early December; and so began a new season.
The crew flawlessly removed the Tiffany window and, once repaired, it will be on display in a museum in Evanston, Illinois. Members of the congregation were given the opportunity to purchase items, and we did. One parishioner purchased some of the wormy chestnut paneling from the chapel and is now making beautiful crosses out of it, donating the money back to the church for a mission yet to be determined. The slate from the roof went to the state of Delaware. The seasoned wooden beams, paneling, flooring and lathe were carefully disassembled and the nails painstakingly removed before it was loaded onto trucks to be re-purposed in construction elsewhere. Some of the stone was purchased locally for use in yards and gardens.
As the work was being done, we endured the indignant wrath of some passersby who asked, “How dare you tear down this historical landmark?” While their words deepened the dagger, we gracefully thanked them for their interest and asked for their prayers. Others stopped to share memories of Trinity’s presence in downtown Newark, marveled at “the courage it must have taken for you to make this decision,” and offered their prayers. The work crew handled our possessions with dignity and respect, and we embraced them. Most of us, at one time or another during this “season” stood in our former sanctuary amidst the dust and demolition, in tears, recalling our precious memories and occasions spent here. The workers always stopped, listened patiently and offered support. They helped us load our purchases and even delivered them for some. They left for a week at Easter, returning to complete the demo in mid-April. They had become like family and we will never forget their kindness.
And so ended that season. We now have a beautiful worship space in Simpson Hall, our previous fellowship area. We continue to serve the community with meals, reading, hosting meetings, and housing an Alcoholics Anonymous group. We take solace and pride in knowing that small (and large) pieces of Trinity, which God so graciously granted us stewardship for nearly 126 years, will now be enjoyed by others around the country.
Our small but mighty congregation strives to “keep the faith and be the Church,” as we begin to discern new missions and to vision our journey forward. And yes, the tears still flow freely at times when I stand on what our Recasting Priest, the Rev. Joseph Kovitch, calls our “field of dreams,” where our proud and grand old church once stood. I find comfort in the words from the Eighth Station of the Cross on Good Friday: “Those who sowed with tears will reap with songs of joy.”
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Submitted by Cynthia Johnson