Faced with selling our church building, many in our congregation grieved. They remembered Grandpa who used to teach Sunday school in the classroom, or falling in love with the one they’d marry while serving together in the kitchen, or seeing their daughter married in the sanctuary. It was hard for them to walk away, and their feelings ran the grief gamut. The elders sure took the brunt of it during the anger phase. I can’t blame our members – they needed someplace to put their anger for the years of splits and fighting and their resentment that it ultimately led to us leaving our land.
Before we knew it, before we were ready, we faced closing on our property. Not only had we not packed a single box, but we were going from a 14,000-square-foot building to renting a conference room in a hotel. The monumental task before us was to pack that itty-bitty subset of our stuff we couldn’t live without, and give or throw away the rest.
Did I mention that we owned a grand piano? An organ? A whole roomful of books, another of seasonal decorations? Boxes of records stretching back almost 100 years? About a million folding tables and a billion folding chairs?
Members seemed to be moving through their grief, but we had to be out in a week, and we had to call on them to do the work. Several of our members took the week off and killed themselves packing and pitching. The rest of us came together that Saturday and finished the job. By the time we were done, we had made, filled, and taped shut ten dozen boxes; filled three forty-foot dumpsters and two 20-by-30 storage units; and helped several other churches load our best equipment onto their rented trucks to be used in their ministries. As the mountains of stuff shrunk and disappeared, so did our grief. When we made one last pass through the building to make sure we hadn’t left anything behind, as we vacuumed the carpets one last time, we all knew that the last of our grief was gone. In its place was eagerness and excitement to move forward along the path God has laid out before us.
John, our lead elder, grew up worshiping in the previous building, a 1910 structure that the congregation was outgrowing by the 1960s. He watched our current building go up in three phases as the 1960s faded into the 1970s. He watched the 1910 building be razed in 1973 and a fellowship hall be built in its place. The 1910 building’s cornerstone was reset in the fellowship hall’s northeast corner.
John was determined that the cornerstone would come with us to be re-reset in our next building. He called a mason to chisel it out and replace it with bricks. The next time I saw him, he said, “When you tap on top of the cornerstone, it sounds hollow! I wonder if there’s anything inside. When everybody’s here on Saturday, we ought to open it and see! Could be nothing, could be something!”
And so we did. With considerable effort, because it weighs a ton, it was pushed into an empty room. We gathered, and John handed a hammer to his elderly aunt Doris, our congregation’s longest-standing member. She took one whack and broke it open. John reached in and pulled out a Ball jar stuffed with old photographs, bulletins, newspaper clippings, a complete membership roster, a roll of paper signed by every member, and meeting minutes from early-1970s church board meetings leading up to the building of the fellowship hall. We were thrilled! Many of us had come to this church after the building was built, and were excited to catch this glimpse into our past. A few who remembered the old building were happy to reminisce.
This photo from about 1963, which was printed on the church’s letterhead, shows the new educational wing next to the 1910 building. The church was still way, way out in the country in 1963 – check out the rural-route address! Indianapolis and Marion County wouldn’t merge their governments until 1970, and the suburbs wouldn’t sprawl this far until about 1985.
This postcard from about 1970 shows the church’s spiffy new Unigov address. It also shows the completed sanctuary and the second floor of the education wing. The 1910 building’s tower is visible, but the rest of the building is hidden behind trees.
In this September, 1973, photo, the old building has been razed and the fellowship hall is being built. According to the church board meeting minutes, it was financed in part by selling bonds, which earned 7½ percent interest and matured in 1987. The minutes also say that the winning bid to build the fellowship hall was for $137,909. You can hardly build a house in our township for that little today!
As we gathered around to look at the photographs and papers, our pastor asked us to think about what we’d like to put back into the cornerstone when we set it into our new building. “If Jesus doesn’t come first,” he said, “what would you like a future generation to know about us when our next building is torn down?” Nobody had a good answer at the time. Now that I’ve seen how we’ve come through our difficulties strengthened and unified, I think that what we put in there needs to be far less about the building we will build and much more about what God has done in and will do through us, the people of North Liberty Christian Church.
It wasn’t until I drove away for the last time that it struck me: John had to know that Ball jar was inside the cornerstone – he was there when it was set! The stinker!