Historic North Christian Church has been selected to participate in a national grant-making program to help churches with restoration, refurbishing and growth.

The church will receive a planning grant and in-kind professional services leading to an opportunity to obtain up to $250,000 in capital grants. The building, completed in 1964, was designed by Finnish-American architect Eero Saarinen, best known for the Gateway Arch in St. Louis.

North Christian is perhaps most recognized by local residents for its 192-foot, needle-like spire reaching toward heaven.

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The award comes as part of an unprecedented $14 million National Fund for Sacred Places announced by Partners for Sacred Places and the National Trust for Historic Preservation to assist aging churches in need of repair and restoration. The fund will provide up to $250,000 in capital grants, in addition to planning grants and an array of services, for at least 50 individual congregations from a diversity of faiths over four years.

“We have a gigantic need for a new air conditioning system,” said the Rev. Tonja Gerardy, who points out that the air conditioner is original to 1964. “It might sound like a vanity thing, but it’s really important as we host a number of groups and nonprofit organizations in the community that we are able to offer them some level of comfort.”

Gerardy said two-thirds of the air conditioning unit is no longer functioning.

The church, like many other historic houses of worship, has faced other challenges, including attendance and support nowhere near its heyday of 300-plus attendees most Sundays. At that time, its members included such influential community members as the late J. Irwin and Xenia Miller, who built Columbus’ international architectural legacy.

North Christian was selected for fund support due to its unique architecture and its commitment to serving the community. Preserving the inner workings of such a facility takes extra care and resources, making this project an ideal fit for the fund, according to those who made the decision.

“We are excited to support this congregation,” said Chad Martin, director of the national fund. “The architecture of their building is unmatched across the country. And their commitment to growing their ministry and partnerships for positive community impact are commendable.”

The National Fund for Sacred Places is a collaboration that builds on Partners for Sacred Places’ decades of work helping churches use best stewardship practices with their historic facilities in order to strengthen, serve and celebrate their communities for the common good. The National Trust for Historic Preservation is the nation’s leading preservation organization with 60 years of advocacy and grant-making to preserve America’s diverse history.

The fund was launched with two grants totaling nearly $14 million from the Indiana-based Lilly Endowment Inc. Through this initiative, $10 million will be disbursed for capital improvements, with the remainder used for planning, technical assistance, coaching and program oversight.

Besides the building itself

North Christian Church is more than an architectural wonder and showpiece.

Its followers and members boast a track record of engaging the community.

It was among congregations that led the formation years ago of the Ecumenical Assembly of Bartholomew County Churches, which created Love Chapel outreach, now feeding 1,200 needy local families monthly. In the past decade or more, it also has hosted a variety of nationally touring speakers addressing topics ranging from apartheid to homosexuality.

Some of those presentations have attracted as many as 400 people, including attendees from a variety of other churches and those with no church affiliation.