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First Presbyterian Church is looking at remodeling parts of its church, and some representative s attended the recent Knox Heritage sponsored work shop that offered renovation and community viability tips for local churches.



Sacred AND Special

Workshop shares expanded vision for church buildings in the community

By John Shearer

Special to the News Sentinel, December 14, 2013

Some may look at churches, synagogues and other religious facilities as places that exist in a vacuum for worshipers and the people who might be aided by their outreach efforts.

But a national preservation official who was in Knoxville recently said the buildings are more deeply intertwined in the larger community than that.

And for that reason, the church buildings, particularly the historic ones, are worthy of being preserved and used in some way, even if their membership has dwindled.

“The preservation is important for their cultural and architectural heritage, but just as important for the economic value,” said Tuomi Joshua Forrest, the executive vice president of Partners for Sacred Places.

“The average church in Knoxville on an annual basis has over $2 million in economic impact per year and supports scores of local businesses and employs lots of people and has lots of programs,” he said.

For rest, whose non-profit organization offers training and in formation to churches and other religious groups, was in Knoxville late last month speaking at Knox Heritage’s annual Preservation Awards gathering at the Bijou Theatre downtown.

There he told of the group’s work and used as an example a turn-of- the-20thcentury United Methodist church in his community of Philadelphia that was about to close due to dwindling membership.

Through some groups coming together, the building was saved, he said. It is now used by multiple church and nonprofit groups and is still contributing economically to its neighborhood.

Also while in Knoxville, Forrest coordinated a workshop that was attended by representatives of about a dozen churches and synagogues trying to learn more about feasibly renovating their structures or maintaining the congregations’ vibrancy.

During the workshop, held at the historic Central United Methodist Church’s fellowship hall in the Fourth and Gill neighborhood, he introduced the attendees to some new ideas about the churches being important parts of the larger community. He also gave them new ways to reach out to for support, including financial.

According to Forrest, plenty of grants and expert advice are available and he tried to make attendees aware of some of them.

But he also talked about the silent advice of sorts that churches in turn give the community simply through their presence. And that understanding had attendee William Pender, the senior pastor of First Presbyterian Church on State Street downtown, as excited as a seminary student suddenly gaining some new insight into a Bible passage.

“What helped me the most was the use of the phrase ‘economic halo’ of the church,” Pender said enthusiastically. “We bring people downtown. We make downtown feel secure. We add to the architectural diversity of downtown. We do common services that no one else is doing. And we’re here in the good times and bad times.” Pender and several representatives of his church were at the workshop because they are getting ready to renovate some of the buildings of varying ages surrounding their 1903 sanctuary.

A number of non-clergy church representatives also attended the workshop, including Jan Larsson of St. John’s Lutheran Church off North Broadway and Patti Ingrao of Eusebia Presbyterian Church in Blount County.

Larsson said her church, which is celebrating 125 years of ministry this year, has been undergoing some renovation in recent years, but it still has issues like keeping the heat running and leaks in the roof.

But the biggest tip she received from the workshop dealt more with renovations of the nonphysical kind concerning the church’s role in the community.

“The biggest thing I got out of it is the concept that you just don’t have to work from within your own congregation not only for funds, but for outreach of any sort,” she said.

“Let the community know the value of what the church is doing in its community and the economic value to the community.” Ingrao came away with some new thoughts on how her church can better function in its neighborhood.

“One of the things that will help us is utilizing the space we have with different groups, and that will bring more people that might be interested in the church,” she said.

Kim Trent, executive director of the non-profit historic preservation group Knox Heritage, said she thought the workshop was beneficial.

“A lot of positive things will come out of them gathering and seeing that folks from different denominations and different parts of the region are facing similar problems,” she said, adding that her office receives a lot of calls from churches regarding maintenance or renovation issues.

“He (Forrest) is bringing a different perspective to this that people aren’t used to hearing regarding what impact churches have on a community as far as economic development and community development and how they can use that knowledge to access new sources of support for their historic buildings .”

The preservation is important for their cultural and architectural heritage, but just as important for the economic value.”

Tuomi Joshua Forrest, the executive vice president of Partners for Sacred Places

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