Editorial: North Christian turns the page

The sun sets on North Christian Church in Columbus in September 2018.

The Republic file photo

The final worship service a few days ago at North Christian Church won’t be the last time the historic architectural treasure will be in the news. Just as the 1964 Eero Saarinen-designed structure has come to symbolize what makes Columbus special, so too did the church’s faithful.

As The Republic’s Brian Blair reported, North Christian’s modernist building reflected something of its congregation and “hearkens to a day when community leaders J. Irwin and Xenia Miller were among not only this city’s more visible champions of racial harmony and equality, but also representatives of that and more nationwide. The Millers figured prominently into the church’s social justice footprint.”

The Bartholomew County Public Library is looking at the possibility of a meaningful reuse of this important structure, which, along with First Christian Church, exemplifies how Columbus’ faith community played a leading role in fashioning our city’s architectural distinctiveness.

The potential reuse of North Christian has some friends in high places. Blair also covered the debut earlier this month of the Landmark Columbus Foundation’s Progressive Preservation Talks series. The local nonprofit’s director, Richard McCoy, was joined by Mayor Jim Lienhoop, Indiana Landmarks president Marsh Davis and some 70 others.

Blair wrote that McCoy and others described the idea of progressive preservation as “keeping and restoring a structure out of respect for its significance and prominence in a community’s history while helping ensure that its use enhances the future.”

Davis also serves on the advisory committee of the National Fund for Sacred Places. Blair reported that Davis “has been a catalyst for securing that fund’s grant money for preservation work on structures at both First Christian and North Christian. He remains very supportive of First Christian’s ongoing fund drive to preserve its tower.

“And he said he was pleased to see other Sacred Places funds go to North Christian ‘to go to help sustain the building, no matter who uses it in the future.’”

Local, state and federal preservation leaders recognize the significance of these spaces, as well as the 143-year-old Second Baptist Church. Columbus’ longest-serving historically African American church was the focus of a recent visit from Tiffany Tolbert, associate director of the African American Cultural Heritage Action Fund at the National Trust for Historic Preservation based in Washington, D.C.

Tolbert joined the Progressive Preservation panel as well, and she and McCoy also included Second Baptist also in the concept.

North Christian Church’s legacy, like its signature spire, is about reaching ever higher. With a thoughtful, community-centered preservation plan for one of Columbus’ architectural jewels, such lofty aspirations can continue, and thrive, well into the future. And so will others.