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Historic church has a good problem: it needs more seats

By Tom Rivers, Editor Posted 27 October 2013 at 12:00 am

Photo by Tom Rivers – The Rev. Randy LeBaron sits in one of the pews at the Albion Free Methodist Church. The pews will be moved out after today’s service and replaced with cushioned chairs. The church will meet the next two Sundays at Hoag Library while the sanctuary is remodeled.

ALBION – In 1859, the Rev. Loren Stiles was kicked out of the Methodist Episcopal Church in Albion for his radical preaching. He railed against pew rental fees, the oppression of slavery and other social ills in the late 1850s.

Stiles helped start a new denomination, and it built its first church across the street from where he was ousted. From that first congregation in Albion, the Free Methodist Church has grown to more than 1,000 churches in the United States.

The first church continues to draw a crowd. In fact, the church in Albion is feeling some growing pains. Most of its Sunday services are at near capacity with about 190 people attending on average. That has prompted church leaders to look for ways to add seats so more people can attend services comfortably.

The church has decided to remove the wooden pews and replace them with 240 cushioned seats. The pulpit will also be shifted from the east side of the sanctuary to the north side.

“This is simply cosmetic,” said the Rev. Randy LeBaron, the church pastor the past 10 years. “We’re not changing who we are as a church.”

The pews are not the originals. The congregation bought them about 40 years ago from a church in Greece. One original pew from more than 150 years ago remains in the sanctuary and it will stay in the church. Some of the current pews are being purchased by church members, and other pews will be available for another church to buy.

The pews will be moved out after today’s service. The church will meet at the Hoag Library the following two Sundays while the sanctuary is remodeled. Besides the chairs and pulpit, new carpet is part of the improvements.

“A lot of people have noted that this is a good problem to have,” LeBaron said about the space crunch. “But a good problem still needs a solution.”

The church will have a celebration and dedication service on Nov. 17, its first Sunday back in the church following the sanctuary changes. LeBaron noted other recent upgrades for the building include a new roof and handicapped accessible entrance for the basement.

“We love the fact that we’re in the first building,” he said. “But we want to make it 21st century practical. We don’t want to abandon the building.”

The church has services on Sundays at 9 a.m. with Sunday school at 10:30.