By Peter H. Milliken
A historic downtown church has returned to a largely bygone era by regularly opening its doors for private meditation and prayer.
While most churches are now locked for security reasons, except when services are scheduled, Trinity United Methodist Church has thrown open the doors leading to its nondenominational Chapel of the Friendly Bells every weekday.
“We need to have the church open when we’re here. We just prop the doors open, and people are welcome to come in and pray,” said the Rev. Jerry Krueger, who became Trinity’s pastor July 1.
“We need to be a spiritual lighthouse for people in this community,” the pastor said. “We’re going to be a frontier, not a fortress.”
Most recently, the landmark church, located at 30 W. Front St., erected a sign over the chapel door, advertising that it is open for prayer from 8:30 a.m. to 1 p.m., Monday through Friday. The Rev. Mr. Krueger said it is usually open until 2:30 or 3 p.m., however.
“I think that’s a beautiful thing. ... The doors to God’s house should always be open,” said Judge R. Scott Krichbaum of Mahoning County Common Pleas Court, whose chambers are in the county courthouse adjacent to the church.
“It’s kind of a bold move next door, but, I think, an appropriate move,” the judge said.
“That’s appealing to me to be able to have that opportunity to just go and sit in the house of God before we come over here to do this very important function that we do,” in the courthouse, said Judge Krichbaum, who is a Roman Catholic.
“Some of the most important decisions we make are in church, whether its becoming baptized or getting married,” observed James E. “Ted” Roberts, a downtown lawyer and Trinity church member.
“We also have important decisions occurring in the courthouse, and time for reflection in a church preparing us for the decision in the courthouse may be a very appropriate neighbor policy and opportunity,” Roberts added.
For those emerging from an acrimonious divorce proceeding or some other life-changing event in the courthouse, the chapel can serve as an important sanctuary, Mr. Krueger said.
“Where’s the way station that they go to? It needs to be this church,” he said. “We’re not just a Sunday-only thing.”
“It really is a chapel that is available for all people,” Mr. Krueger added. “You don’t have to be a Christian to go in there to worship because there are a variety of symbols from different faith communities that are found in there.”
A mural behind the cross and above the chapel altar depicts the risen Christ; and a constantly illuminated red light suspended above the altar denotes the ever-present Holy Spirit.
The altar is flanked, however, by the menorahs of Judaism and by symbols of Islam, Buddhism and Hinduism in the wooden paneling.
“We’ve been here for over 200 years. We plan to be here for a long time,” Mr. Krueger said.
The church was founded in 1803, and the current 1883-vintage edifice underwent extensive remodeling in 1941.
“People come in, and they’ll stay for five minutes, 10 minutes. Sometimes, they’re in there for an hour,” Rick Woolford, a church trustee and Trinity Chimes newsletter editor, said of those who privately meditate in the chapel.
“Even though we have worries about security today, I think with this step of faith, we will help our security,” added Roberts, a former church trustee.
The church’s open-door policy creates an atmosphere of good will and a “lessening of the tensions that raise the requirements for security,” Roberts explained.
Although the chapel is open during, and often beyond, the posted hours, it is gated off from the rest of the church when other parts of the building are not in use, and an intercom must be used for access to church offices.
“That’s an unfortunate reality nowadays. We can’t just let people come in and wander through the building like we used to,” Woolford added.