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United Methodists vote to abandon historic building in Albion

By Tom Rivers, Editor Posted 21 August 2013 at 12:00 am

Congregation expects to stay for several more months while weighing its future

Photos by Tom Rivers – The United Methodist Church in Albion will be abandoned by its congregation and turned over to the conference in the coming months, making the future uncertain for the historic church at the corner of Platt and East State streets.

The church has been using five wooden beams to help support the roof since last December.

ALBION – For several years it has weighed on the minds, wallets and emotions of members of the United Methodist Church in Albion – a roof that was structurally unsound and might take $1 million or more to fix.

Tonight the church congregation voted overwhelmingly to be relieved of a historic building at 19 North Platt St. The building was deemed far too big and costly for a congregation with about 30 active families.

“The way the vote went people want to move forward and this is the only way forward,” said Reid Cole, chairman of the church trustees.

The United Methodists had a special meeting tonight, and members were asked to vote on whether they should abandon the building. There were 47 ballots cast, and 36 supported leaving the site and looking for a different place to worship.

“We are charting a new path,” said Terry Wilbert, administrative council chairman for the church.

The United Methodist Church is part of the Courthouse Square, a district with 35 buildings that are named to the National Register of Historic Places.

Wilbert believes the church is the most beautiful of the eight churches that are part of the Courthouse Square, a district with 35 buildings that is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

The brick building is loaded with ornate stained glass windows and woodwork. It was built about 150 years ago.

In 1914, the church reoriented the sanctuary. When that happened, some members didn’t like that lower beams that helped support the roof truss system were more visible. The church removed the lower beams. A century later the roof is in danger of collapse from a truss system that needs to be totally rebuilt.

Architects have estimated it could cost $1 million or more to rebuild the roof system. The church last December put in five wooden beams to help support the roof. They have applied for grants to help pay for the costs, and was awarded a $50,000 grant. But that left a big gap to get the project done.

“It’s tough to grow under this burden,” Cole said.

The building will likely be transferred to the Upper New York Annual Conference, which has its main office in Syracuse. Church leaders will meet with the conference within the next month to determine the next steps.

The church has many large stained glass windows and numerous other historical artifacts.

The congregation will remain in the building for a while, but Wilbert said they will be exploring options for the future, perhaps using an existing church, holding services after one of the congregations. Or the United Methodists could use a non-church building, possibly even the library.

The United Methodists will pay to keep the building maintained and covered by insurance in the near future.

Members were asked if the Albion congregation should consider merging with another nearby UM church, but only four out of 47 people supported that.

“We want to stay together as a congregation. That was obvious,” Wilbert said.

The congregation also wants to take as many “usable assets” as possible from the building to wherever the church settles for a meeting place, Wilbert said.

In the meantime, the church plans to keep up with its ministries, including a beef on weck dinner next Thursday from 4:30 to 8 p.m.

Wilbert said the church wants to do more for the community, including possible ministries for camping, youth groups and senior citizens.

“It was a difficult decision,” he said about the vote tonight. “This was built when everyone went to church and they went to the mainline denominational churches. But now there are a lot of large churches with congregations that can no longer support the buildings.”