First Baptist Church in Independence hadn't been able to use it's old 1896 building for a few years, and the congregation has worshipped in the current, larger sanctuary since 1985.
The church members didn't want the old space to wither away or be torn down, but it needed a little TLC. People driving along Truman Road at Pleasant Street near the Square the last couple months might well notice the old building has received some attention.
After the church raised some funds, it started some work in August to spruce up the exterior. Workers have put new sheet metal on the steeple of the newer structure, and the roof needed patching. Next will come facade restoration and some plane glass outside the stained-glass windows, some of which suffered hail damage, fell due to warped frames or got vandalized.
Hopefully, Pastor Kevin Payne says, the church can eventually replacing the heating and cooling system and refurbish the interior enough that it can be used for special occasions and requests.
“It's an ongoing thing,” said Payne, who leads a church that was first organized in 1845 – the first Baptist church in the area. “We're trying to restore it in phases. After two or three years we'll re-evaluate and see where we're at.”
Thus far, First Baptist has spent about $80,000, Payne said, and it wants to keep the first phase under $200,000. The church hosted a concert last Saturday to benefit its renovation, and Payne says the church of course would always welcome donations.
First Baptist has about 400 to 500 registered members, Payne said, and there was some sentiment among church members to preserve the old church, even if it would take some hefty change and it wouldn't happen quickly.
“Many of our members grew up in the church, were baptized and got married in that church,” Payne said.
Besides, as part of the Truman National Historic Landmark District, it would require special permits to tear down, and Mayor Eileen Weir jokingly says she delivered the “bad news” that she wouldn't issue a demolition permit.
Weir said she also hoped to see the building preserved, and not just because her in-laws are members of the church and her husband grew up in it.
“It's a very historical landmark in our city,” Weir said. “This is more than just somebody's church we're trying to save. It has significance to our city.”
Weir said when she heard the church had formed a committee to contemplate the old building, she asked them to meet with herself and Wendy Shay, the city's historic preservation manager, and see how perhaps they could help.
That help wouldn't be with dollars or materials, but with advice or direction on where to find other resources toward historic preservation.
“The primary thing is preserving it,” Weir said, “but let's put not put this all on church community. People recognize it as significant architecture in our city.”
Weir noted that close to First Baptist are First Presbyterian Church and First Christian Church along Pleasant Church, First United Methodist Church a short block off that, and the Community of Christ headquarters. That doesn't even include Trinity Episcopal and St. Mary Catholic churches on Liberty Street, with their own historical significance.
“It's our historic church row, in that way,” she said.
And it's not unheard of for unaffiliated people to donate toward historic churches simply for preservation, Weir said.
“There are people that like to preserve sacred spaces and buildings like that which are important to the community,” she said.