Piece by piece, the Church of All Nations’ congregation is making its distressed building whole again.
The church at 4301 Benjamin St. NE, once Shiloh Bethany Presbyterian Church, was built in 1956. Shiloh Bethany’s members dissolved the congregation in 2007 and sold the building to Church of All Nations, which also belongs to Presbyterian Church USA. (About 25 Shiloh Bethany members joined the Church of All Nations congregation.)
Pastor Jin Kim said that the building needed a great deal of work.
“When you’ve got a congregation that was dwindling and dying for 25 years, nothing was being done to the building.”
They started by replacing the boiler and the roof. Then, they tackled the parking lot, which hadn’t been high on the list until the fire marshal gave them incentive. “He said our parking lot was so bad that firefighters couldn’t pull a fire truck into it,” Kim said.
Most recently, church members removed and are working on replacing the church’s entire south wall. They made the new wall four inches thicker (from four to eight inches), and installed larger, energy-efficient windows. “The old ones were small, single-paned windows. They had handles that you cranked open, but most of them didn’t work,” Kim said.
Two weeks ago, drivers and pedestrians on Stinson Boulevard and Chatham Road might have been astonished to see the work in progress. The whole side of the church was goneâ€”leaving the upstairs sanctuary and downstairs chapel exposedâ€”as volunteer workers rebuilt the wall.
How did they remove the old south wall?
“We just kicked it off,” Kim said. “That’s how rotten the wood was.”
The church had been renovated at least once in the past, he said, when members needed more room for Sunday school classes and offices. The sanctuary was enlarged to the east and west.
“The sanctuary’s ceiling has beautiful cedar beams throughout. I was told that a Frank Lloyd Wright pupil designed the sanctuary and the hallway.” The hallway’s lower beams, he added, are supposed to create a dramatic contrast for church members who go from the hallway into the high-ceilinged sanctuary.
“It was too bad that while they were doing that, they didn’t spend more money on the south wall and windows,” Kim said. “It costs us an average of $1,600 a month for heating. The wall had been damaged because the roof leaked for so many years, and the windows were not energy efficient. We built it in 10 vertical sections. We have greatly expanded the window size. In the future, we will need to replace the sanctuary floor.”
The lower level had flooding issues, Kim said. “At the building’s southeast end, the ground outside was higher than an outside door. We will be lifting the door about a foot.” The door, he added, had cracked from water damage.
The new, taller windows in the chapel downstairs are a nice addition, he said, because the old windows sat lower in the wall and did not allow people a view of the sky.
A building contractor had estimated the cost of the south wall project at about $250,000, Kim said. “We were able to use 100 percent volunteer labor, and just pay for the cost of the materials, which was $35,000. We had a licensed contractor, who is a church member, oversee the project, but he didn’t charge us.”
A beautiful site
Columbia Heights Mayor Gary Peterson, who is a builder himself, said he recently visited the church. “It is such a beautiful site and a beautiful building. It deserves to get rebuilt. It has become another focal point in our city.”
The church sits on a hill overlooking the north end of Silver Lake. The area, which includes the city’s public beach and Silverwood Park, has seen major renovation in the last two years. Last year, Columbia Heights renovated the beach and parking area. Two weeks ago, Three Rivers Regional Park held its grand opening to celebrate reopening Silverwoodâ€”the former Salvation Army Silver Lake Camp siteâ€”which now is open to the public and boasts a new visitor’s center and coffee shop, walking trails, and an outdoor amphitheater.
The last urgent thing
Completion of the south wall project will be a relief, Kim said, because it is the last urgent thing that must be done to save the building from further deterioration. Many of the church members are immigrants, Kim said, and the church does not have a lot of money. “Only a rich white congregation can do a capital campaign. We’ve never done one, nor do we have the capability of doing one.”
Other interior renovations that they have done include adding a projection system in the sanctuary, replacing low hanging lights with higher ones that did not get in the way of the projector and the screen, and adding stage lights. “They are fluorescent, so they take a fifth of the energy,” Kim said.
Church of All Nations’ has an ethnically diverse congregation, representing 25 different countries. The church offers four worship services in four languages: French, Portuguese, Sudanese and English. Kim said the average Sunday morning attendance at the English service is about 230 people.
Find a link to the church web site at nenorthnews.com Event #5629. (Church staff said they were changing website servers last week, so the website might not work for a few days.) The church office phone number is 763-503-2600.