"Liberalism always generates the exact opposite of it's stated intent." Quinn's First law.
First Grace Church of Christ says it has been a fixture in Akron, OH, serving Highland Square for over 60 years. It was originally a church for German speaking Christians who came to Akron to work for the rubber factories and other industries in the growing industrial town. As often happens in Protestant churches, there was a rift in the congregation with part of the congregation wanting to continue their services in their native German tongue, and others wanting to hear the services in English.
But the church survived that rift and became one of the anchors of West Akron. Nestled right next to the Akron Women's City Club, it was not unusual to see wedding parties outside the church for pictures, or see the parking lot full of families going to services on a Sunday morning.
Many of their dead were buried in Mount Peace Cemetery. Mr. Pete and I walk through there a lot. In some of the older sections German names and unfamiliar epitaphs are prevalent.
The church gave back to it's neighborhood too. I remember going to the church building for "block club" meetings and my kids went there for afternoon crafts and play and sometimes for the free "community meal" on Saturdays.
The church sold off the cemetery and made a cool 6-million doing that. On one hand it seemed sad to me to disconnect the church from the graves of the people who had been a part of the church, but on the other the cemetery organization caring for the place was doing a good job and maybe the money would bless the living. And it did in a way. The church had festivals with bouncy toys in the summer that all of the neighborhood kids would go to. It had a food pantry and a day care. The grounds were beautiful and and the church was well cared for. It seemed that this beautiful church would ground our neighborhood for many years to come.
(Prom pictures taken at First Grace Church spring 2013)
But there were some other troublesome changes that came as well. My neighbor across the street had to quit her Sunday school class there and pulled her kids out too because of the way they were telling her to interpret scripture to the students. The church hosted a production of the last supper one year that depicted Christ and the apostles as gay men. I remember looking this up on their web site and saw that the pastor was taking those who criticized this to task - and not in a pastoral way but in more of a "we're doing it, get over it" type of way.
This church, which has next to nothing to do with Catholicism, became big supports of the Nuns on the Bus too.
But the biggest change was "The Sign." A huge electric sign right out in front of the church that blasted it's controversial views 24/7 for all to see. It proudly advertised itself by flashing, "Yea, we're that church."It unabashedly supported President Obama, and Planned Parenthood, and gay marriage while mocking conservative and current events regularly. It called itself the church for "All the People," but it was pretty clear that if you were a conservative Christian your views were going to be less than welcome.
Last month, it was announced that the congregation of First Grace was leaving the church building that had been there for decades. The once large congregation had dwindled down to 60 regular people. The pastor said that all of their holdings took a hit in 2008 and they went through all $6 million - while claiming that somehow, they were good stewards of all they had. I kinda don't think so.
And here's the kicker - the church for "all the people" is now the church for a few handfuls. The building is closed and will probably go up for sale. In the meantime, if it goes the way of their "Friendship garden" of a few years ago, we're going to see a lot of weeds and probably vandalism which will hurt the already sliding property values and send the wrong message out about our neighborhood.
The church will be on the market, hopefully another congregation will buy it, or maybe it will get turned into a charter school. Before that happens, I'm sure my family will take a turn at keeping the yard mowed and watching after the place. Apparently the service is over - the burden is coming.
Nonetheless, I'm glad to see First Grace go. They've been offending their neighbors and passersby with that expensive sign for years. It didn't bring the masses to the church services but instead drove them away. It's probably time to look for new leadership too - I don't think a pastor who can go through millions of dollars and call it "good stewardship" is suited for that type of position.