COLUMBUS, Ind. — In a city where a celebrated Modernist bank is now a coffee shop and a heralded Modernist newspaper building is now an architectural classroom, a praised Modernist church possibly could become a library programming space.
That’s what Bartholomew County Public Library leaders are considering with designer Eero Saarinen’s 1964 jewel known as North Christian Church, according to Jason Hatton, library director. Hatton mentioned that the library is in the midst of hiring a consultant to examine the idea.
Nance Aurand-Humpf, North Christian Church’s board chair, released a statement pertaining to discussions that have unfolded bi-weekly among the library, the church and the nonprofit Landmark Columbus Foundation (as a guide and resource) for several months. With North Christian’s dwindling worship service attendance for nearly the past decade, church leaders recently laid off staff that included Pastor Tonja Gerardy. She confirmed that her last day included the Sunday worship service for March 27.
”Like many mainstream churches, we have seen a steady decline in membership over the last few decades,” Aurand-Humpf said. “Unlike most churches in this category, we have had the added challenge of caring for and protecting a National Historic Landmark and Columbus’ architectural treasure. That is no small feat for an active congregation of fewer than 30 people.”
Gerardy had discussed that challenge openly especially since the COVID-19 pandemic put even further strain upon some of the struggling houses of worship locally. Even amid the attendance challenge the past decade, and as far back as previous Pastor Lanny Lawler, the church has continued one of its higher-profile, unofficial-but-visible community roles: as a source of spiritual unity and a voice for disenfranchised segments of Bartholomew County, including on issues such as immigration and the LGBTQ community.
It also has hosted such gatherings as a memorial service in 2019 for the Christian victims of Easter church service terrorist bombings in Sri Lanka.
“This year, it became clear that we were on an unsustainable path,” Aurand-Humpf said. “We realized that we would have to lay staff off sooner rather than later if we wanted to help our employees transition to new jobs. I am sad to report that we have done that.
“We are excited about the library’s interest in our building and grounds. We want to leave the building in good hands with an entity that shares our inclusive values. You can’t find a more equitable, inclusive public space than a library.“