DOWNTOWN Church to close, merge in suburb

The 70-year-old neo-Gothic building will be sold.
YOUNGSTOWN -- The congregation of a church that has existed in the central city since 1841 is closing its building and merging with a suburban church next month.
On Nov. 7, members of First Christian Church, 562 Wick Ave., will begin worshipping at the Boardman Christian Church, 565 Boardman-Canfield Road. They will sell their building, which is a stone structure built in 1934 next to the Butler Institute of American Art and adjacent to Youngstown State University.
First Christian, which has had up to 1,200 members, now has 100, said the Rev. Brittany Barber, church pastor. She and the congregation have been discussing the possibilities of a merger for three years. Last year, they approached Boardman Christian and its interim pastor, the Rev. James Schimmel, about the two congregations joining.
The Rev. Mr. Schimmel said that his church had been aware that First Christian was considering a move and hoped that it did not go the way of the former Central Christian Church on Market Street, which closed in 2001.
"We were really commending First Church for not letting that happen," he said.
Merger's phases
Mr. Schimmel said that he has explained to his congregation of about 300 that the First Christian members will be, in a sense, grieving for their old building and they should welcome the newcomers. Mr. Schimmel and the Rev. Mrs. Barber will be co-pastors of the new congregation.
Combining services and facilities completes the merger's first phase, which started with the congregations sharing occasional services and social gatherings. The next phase will be to join finances and agree on a new name, Mrs. Barber and Mr. Schimmel explained. That phase will take place once First Christian has sold its building, they said.
"The congregation is very interested in the building remaining here," Mrs. Barber said. She said they hope that another group can use it, without tearing it down. The building, owned by the congregation, is not handicap accessible. She estimates that 75 percent of the members are between the ages of 70 and 93.
Built in 1934, the neo-Gothic style building replaced the former church on Wood Street, which was taken by eminent domain to build a railroad track. The church's original building was on Youngstown's public square.
Boardman Christian was chartered in 1958 when a group broke from another branch of the Christian church. The modern-style building was built in the late 1960s. Boardman's first pastor was installed at a service in First Christian.
"There is a history of cooperation," Mr. Schimmel said.
Mrs. Barber said she sees this as an exciting time. With First Christian not having to focus on attendance and money, "It's freeing us to do ministry," she said.
The pastors said the move will be a merger, not an absorption of one congregation. The traditions of both will be incorporated into services, and a large brass cross, a Christ candle, pianos and other items will be taken to Boardman.
Other artifacts, including its articles of incorporation from 1841, will be preserved. Some items will go to the county's historical society. They are giving away some items to other organizations. They recently donated hundreds of dinner plates to a church formed in Kansas City about 12 years ago.
The Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) is a denomination formed in 1832 by the combination of the two groups from which it takes its name. Its headquarters are in Indianapolis.

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