New Castle News

October 6, 2012

Repairs won’t faze church’s new owners

Dan Irwin
New Castle News

NEW CASTLE — P. Ross Berry likely would think that his creation was in good hands.

Berry was a free African American and Lawrence County native who established himself as master brick and stone mason in the mid-19th century. Not only did he do the brickwork on the county’s courthouse in 1851 before moving to Youngstown, but he also returned to New Castle in 1865 to build First Christian Church, then called the Disciple Church.

This week, Berry’s Kennedy Square legacy passed into the hands of the Family Worship Center, whose pastor shares Berry’s occupation.

“He was a mason, and that’s what I do,” said the Rev. Kris Kauffman, who works full time at Emrick Masonry in Butler. “I think that’s kind of a neat thing.”

It’s also a handy one.

When the dwindling First Christian congregation decided last spring to put its historic building up for sale, upkeep was a big reason why.

“We’ve come to the point, like a lot of other churches, where we’ve had to realize that there are not nearly enough of us left to support a building of this size,” board chair Sandra Chandler told the New Castle News in May. At that time, the church that had listed about 800 members in the mid-1960s was averaging between 30 and 35 people on Sunday mornings.

Kauffman knows there’s work to be done, but he doesn’t see the challenge as overwhelming.

“The church is in great condition,” he said. “There are some things, because it was an older congregation, that were tough for them to do. But I have a building background, we have others who have building backgrounds, so these are things that will be easily fixable for us.

“The roof is not old, the furnace is from 2007, so the major stuff is in good shape.”

Up in the air is the fate of the church’s Kilgen pipe organ, which Audia Real Estate Services said “works, but needs restoration” in its ad for the building.

“I’ve heard different things about it, from “it needs a little work” to ‘it’s in bad shape,’ ” Kauffman said. “Once we get in here and get established, we’ll take a look at it and see just what the situation is.”

In the meantime, a new sound system for the sanctuary is one of the first orders of business.

The structure is the city’s oldest church building. In addition to the original mid-19th century portion, the facility includes a 1911 annex that seats 50 people, as well as a 1961 education/office wing that has 11 classrooms and a small kitchen.

Despite all that space, the Family Worship Center congregation will meet in the basement for the time being, while work is performed throughout the building.

Participants in tomorrow’s downtown Life Chain — prior to which Kauffman will offer prayer — will be invited into the church after their pro-life vigil for refreshments. Kauffman hopes to offer visits to the public during the city’s Light-Up Night.