A famous quote from the former CEO of GE advises to “change before you have to”. While change is a word that strikes fear into the hearts of many, Welch’s sentiment is wise. Fear of change has stunted the growth of individuals and groups of people, whether in business, religion, or personal endeavors.
However, one church in the area has shown great faith and forward thinking with a recent ministerial decision.
The congregation of 12th Street United Methodist Church in Huntingdon sold its current place of worship, originally built in 1871, to the Huntingdon County Arts Council to maintain the primary purpose of the church to be a mission-oriented church.
Cindy Wetzel, who was chair of the board at the time of the vote to sell in 2019, said many repairs needed to be made to the 150-year-old building.
“We knew we were coming to the end of the life of our roof and it would need to be replaced. There were also many things we wanted to do inside the church. We wanted to have it repainted. We wanted to spruce up our kitchen which hasn’t been updated since the 1950s. We wanted to put a toilet upstairs.
“We are a very mission-oriented church. Much of our money and effort goes to missions, some are local and some extend beyond. So when we looked at the cost (it was supposed to be about $340,000 to do everything we wanted), I got to thinking, ‘do we want to put it in a building or do we really want to put it in assignments?” and we voted to assign him to missions.
The vote took place in the summer of 2019, but the question became “what now?”
If they sold their building, they would obviously need a new place to meet, and they certainly wanted their beloved building to go to a buyer who would use it to better the community.
As is often the case in small towns, there were already many connections between members of 12th Street UMC and members of the McConnellstown United Methodist Church. The churches had been friendly with each other over the years, and the McConnellstown congregation graciously agreed to allow 12th Street members to meet in their building at a time separate from their own services. One congregation holds its Sunday school hour while the other holds worship and vice versa.
According to Pat Shope, pastor of 12th Street UMC, the arrangement is working well.
“We found McConnellstown very cooperative in helping to get through this together. They have been nothing but accommodating. They understand the emotional breathing that occurs with this great shift.
Regarding the fate of the building, Wetzel had pondered it in his mind and one night it came to his mind. The building would be the perfect location for the Huntingdon County Arts Council.
Wetzel explained that she has known HCAC executive director John Kearns for years, supports the board and has even helped them on occasion.
“I called John and caught him off guard and said, ‘what do you think?'” she recalled.
Kearns said there was definite interest in the building from the start.
“The Fourth Street building was ideal for the exhibit space, but it was a bit small. We’ve always been interested in running classes, workshops and stuff, so we’ve been looking for a building for five or six years. »
However, when COVID hit, two of the council’s main sources of funding were cut.
“It really dried up the money,” Kearns said.
The group terminated its lease on Fourth Street in June 2020 and subsequently used the space offered by the McConnellstown Playhouse.
“They were our savior,” Kearns said.
While the council was able to somewhat kickstart things once the COVID restrictions lifted, Kearns noted that it still took a while before all council members were ready to take the plunge.
“We will have to really step up our activities to generate the revenue necessary for this,” he admitted.
Larry Mutti, HCAC Chairman, agreed: “It will be an expensive facility to operate, but it offers so much potential that was not available to us before. We imagine a vision of the arts that is very broad and inclusive. »
Kearns added: “We’ve always had this big vision, now we’re putting in the work to make it happen.”
The council is wasting no time getting down to business as it plans to hold a Ukrainian Pysanky egg decorating workshop at the site on Monday April 4 and open its annual Spring Thaw, a juried exhibition of art and writing for young people, Friday April 8, until Sunday May 1. They are also planning an official grand opening from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Saturday, May 21.
“It will be a day full of artistic demonstrations and hands-on activities for young and old alike,” Kearns explained.
As for the UMC 12th Street congregation, they will hold a final service in the old building on 12th Street. The desecration service is scheduled for 4 p.m. on Sunday, March 27.
“There is a lot of heartbreak and heartbreak in leaving a building with so much history, but we remember who we are – we are the church, not the building. So we reaffirm that and we cry and have those moments of reflection and then we remember who we are. We are the church, and so the vision for the future is for this congregation to continue to be the church in the community and elsewhere, Shope noted.
“We are not locked into an old paradigm. We can reinvent and rethink what the church looks like,” she continued. “We can turn more to missions and do for the community and do it in different ways.”
Wetzel noted that even choosing to ask the arts council to be the building’s next owners, she believes, fulfills the church’s mission to the community.
“This mission in our city is important to us,” she said.