The First Christian United Church of Christ (UCC) dates back to 1884 and is said to have the oldest Christian congregation in Burlington, according to its website. This month the church is selling the historic building.
"Many years ago, it was needed," said Rev. Joy ]Allridge regarding the large building located on 415 S Church St. The church has three stories of classrooms and a sanctuary that seats hundreds.
However, due to the current size of First Christian UCC's congregation, Allridge says the large-scale building is no longer needed. She added that "it's an older space that needs a lot of upkeep."
The church's building was initially put up for sale 11 years ago. As a result of its long duration on the market, the current proprietors of First Christian UCC were surprised when they received a recent offer. It's unclear at this time how the new owners intend to use the space.
Many current members of the church are older, with their younger relatives having moved away. Therefore, Allridge described First Christian UCC's congregation as "an aging church."
Allridge also added that the COVID-19 pandemic further decreased attendance within their congregation. "It's the sad truth that all mainline denominations are somewhat in decline right now," she said.
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The church held a Celebration Service in June, as one of its last services to commemorate the building. Allridge stated that the service had about 100 attendees. She added that the church's announcement of the pending shutdown brought some people to town that have been gone for a while, to attend this service.
Allridge describes the church as being "rich with history," and one of the very first Greek/Roman-designed buildings in Burlington. According to the city of Burlington's website: www.burlingtonnc.gov, First Christian UCC is one of "two outstanding examples of Neoclassical Revival style church architecture" in the city.
Some of the features of the building include large columns, sloped floors leading down to the center of the chapel, an "incredible" pipe organ, Italian stained-glass windows, and a corresponding stained-glass dome. According to Allridge, the latter feature has given First Christian UCC the nickname of "the church with the dome" in the community.
The stained-glass windows are over 88 years old and are said to be worth over one million dollars. Although these windows have been a large staple of the current building's architecture, First Christian UCC will be taking these windows with them to their new location.
Although she adds the building has been a "sacred space" for the congregation, Allridge emphasizes that the "church is not the property, it's the people." Following the closing of the current building, First Christian UCC will continue to hold services at Elon Community Church United Church of Christ while they search for a new permanent location.
Regarding their new location, Allridge said that the church plans to stay in Burlington, but the staff is currently in the process of discerning their options. She added that the congregation intends to be "environmentally conscious" with their selection, picking a building with the smallest environmental footprint possible.
First Christian UCC's website, firstchristianucc.org, states that the church is all-inclusive and welcomes those willing to join them and confess Jesus Christ. Their site added that they "believe relationships between individuals, groups, and nations must be based on love, justice, commitment, and mutual respect."
"People in the community can pray for us during this transition," said Allridge, regarding how members of the community can support the church. She added that people should pray that they grow into the right place for the community in the future.
Their final worship service is set to take place this coming Sunday, July 3. The church currently has a tentative closing date of July 14. They'll host a final prayer service on Wednesday, July 13, at 10 a.m. to commend the space to God.
This article originally appeared on Times-News: Historic church congregation in Burlington sells notable building