New Castle News

October 6, 2012

First Christian Church Sold: New owners look forward to carrying on work of past 150 years

Dan Irwin
New Castle News

NEW CASTLE — With its imposing clock tower and soaring spire, the Civil War-era church on Kennedy Square can cast a long shadow.

For the Rev. Kris Kauffman, though, it was more of a foreshadow.

In October 2010, as Kauffman’s three-year-old Family Worship Center was preparing to move into an empty church at the corner of Cunningham and Long avenues, the pastor stood on the square, offering a prayer at the annual Life Chain event.

A photo of that moment, with the venerable brick church then known as First Christian in the background, later appeared in the New Castle News above the headline “Family Worship Center Moving.”

Almost two years later to the day, Kauffman’s congregation is moving again – this time into the same 148-year-old church that loomed behind him on that day in 2010.

The dwindling First Christian flock put its church up for sale in the spring, and in the wake of its purchase by Family Worship Center, a “Sold” sign popped up this week inside the black, wrought iron fence that surrounds the historic house of worship.

The building has been a part of New Castle’s cityscape since at least 1868, when it was first occupied, according to Bart Richards’ 1964 book, “The Churches of Lawrence County.” A cornerstone, though, bears the date 1864, and additions to the structure were created in 1911 and 1962.

When Kauffman looks at the building and considers its past, he shudders at the thought that it might have ended up like the former Elks Club. That once-majestic, 1914 structure stood empty for nearly 30 years at the corner of Falls Avenue and North Mill Street before it deteriorated to the point that it had to be torn down in 2011.

“That breaks my heart to think of that happening to this church,” said the pastor whose full-time job is with Emrick Masonry in Butler. “There’s a sense of honor here. The date on the building is 1864 – one year before Lincoln died.

“There have been so many good people there doing the work of God, we are honored to be able to step in and continue to do the work that was started in that building almost 150 years ago.”



ROAD TO THE SQUARE

Family Worship Center — which is part of Fremont, Ohio-based Family Worship Center Ministries International — began locally five years ago with 12 people gathered in the home of Kauffman and his wife, Kelly.

The group subsequently met in the basement of Shad Hanna’s Restaurant, then in the former Lincoln-Garfield School on Long Avenue. On Oct. 30, 2010, it moved up the hill into a structure that had housed the Hungarian Baptist Church when it opened in 1937.

“We had everything we needed there,” Kauffman said of the cozy, 90-seat facility. “It was comfortable. But we had no room to grow.”

On Oct. 22, 2010, the New Castle News published Kauffman’s photo with an article reporting Family Worship Center’s impending move to Cunningham and Long. The story was clipped and kept by Richard and Katherine Shira, who remembered and retrieved it when they eventually began to look for a church to attend.  The article prompted them to give Family Worship Center a visit.

Once there, the Shiras quickly picked up on the fact that the congregation was feeling a bit cramped, but Katherine — an Audia Real Estate Services agent who had just received the First Christian listing — initially kept quiet, even when Kauffman mentioned that he’d heard the building was available.

“I didn’t go to church to sell a church,” she said, adding that she actually wrote to 61 area churches in an attempt to market the building.

Eventually, when Kauffman expressed an interest in looking at First Christian, Richard Shira volunteered that it was his wife’s listing.

“And when I got home that day,” Kauffman said, “I had messages on my answering machine from three other people telling me about that church being up for sale.

“At first, I thought no way. That building is overwhelming. It’s just too big. But sometimes, we’re afraid of thinking big, when what we need to do is just to trust God and take a step out in faith.”



REACHING OUT

Kauffman is looking forward to getting his congregation set up as a light for Christ downtown — so much so that he’s planning on holding his first service there at 6:30 p.m. today.

“For us, being downtown is a great opportunity,” he said. “I hear so much about New Castle, how bad it is. But I believe in the city, I believe in its people. I believe there are good stories out there, and we at the church need to do all we can to make a difference and give people the opportunity to do that. It’s time we take back our city.”

Kauffman said the building’s custodian of 20 years took him into the basement and showed him two small areas that, according to legend, were used by the Underground Railroad to hide runaway slaves.

“ It’s an amazing feeling to walk in there and know what had happened here,” he said. “And in a sense, we need to be about the same thing today. When there is turmoil outside, we need to be a place of safety and hope on the inside.”

(Email: d_irwin@ncnewsonline.com)