For more than 140 years, Gale Presbyterian Church has stood on a quarter-acre lot at 2 Cross St. in Elmira, but on Apr. 15 the congregation held its final service as the parish comes close to completing a nine-year journey to find a new location.
Tomorrow (Sunday), the church will officially open its new building, located near the intersection of Barnswallow Drive and Church Street.
“It almost feels like it has come too fast,” said Kim Denstedt, a member of the congregation for 23 years and who, along with Lee Coulman, co-chaired the relocation steering committee.
“It’s a day of mixed emotions, for sure.”
The service last Sunday had to be developed from scratch by Rev. Linda Bell, who has been with the church since 1994, as there were no guidelines for moving from one church to another.
“Most of them are about dissolving a congregation, or amalgamating two congregations, or opening a new church, none of which we were doing,” she said following the final service that saw a packed house overflow into the main foyer.
She said she tried to strike a balance between those who cannot wait to move to the new location – “of which there are many” – and those who still feel the nostalgic tug of the old church and may be reluctant to say goodbye.
She wrote what she called the Rite of Transition and in it she entrusted 10 symbols of the church, ranging from the cross and baptismal bowl to the pulpit bible, to members of the congregation to keep at their homes for the week and to bring to the inaugural service at the new location.
Members of the congregation were also supplied with reusable cloth bags and were asked to take home a bible and praise book from the pews and to return them at the next service, the beginning of which will include a tenor soloist singing “Bless This House.”
During the song, Bell will ask for the sacred items to be returned to her one by one to symbolize the completion of the move.
The closing service included numerous classical hymns that took advantage of the old pipe organ, which Bell said would be left behind because of the costs involved in moving it. The final hymn was “Joyful Joyful We Adore Thee” to the tune of Beethoven’s Symphony No. 9.
The search for a new location began in 2003 when the church launched what it called their Voyage of Discovery to determine if it would be feasible to find a new location for the church. Much has changed in Elmira since builder Hiram Martin and an architect were selected to build the church at the site in 1868.
Now, the church is landlocked and after building a new addition in 1986 it has nowhere to grow. There is no parking available except on the street, and the church is difficult for visitors to find.
The new site is certainly much larger and in a more visible location. Situated on about 3.5 acres of land, the new church is approximately 10,000 square feet on the main floor, with an extra 4,000 square feet of space in the basement – nearly double the approximately 8,000 square feet of total space available to them in the old church.
There will also be 110 parking spaces, a new dishwasher in the kitchen, and numerous other perks that the congregation is excited about.
This move didn’t come cheap, however. The land cost upwards of $300,000 per acre to purchase, and the building itself cost about $2.5 million to build – a considerable increase over the $450 it cost to build the original church back in 1868 on land that had been donated four years earlier by Robert Kenning.
Part of the costs were offset by an anonymous donation of $1 million near the beginning of the project, and the rest was realized through tireless fundraising campaigns such as pie baking, selling gift cards, talent auctions and summer galas.
“We thought the million dollars would buy the land and part of the church, but it barely paid for the land,” said Denstedt. “That’s a lot of pies.”
The church has been sold to a local couple who intend to use it as a dance studio and a residence, and Bell said she was happy to learn that they didn’t intend to simply tear the building down.
“It’s really nice to know that there is going to be music. It’s a different use of music, but it’s still music, and there will still be joy and movement.”
The first worship service will be held at the new location at 10 Barnswallow Dr. in Elmira at 10:30 a.m. tomorrow (Sunday).