After being vacant for over a decade, a church in the Cottage Park area of the Jordan neighborhood in Minneapolis is finally opening its doors. The Church of Gethsemane, a non-denominational congregation, bought the building in 2003, but has had difficulty securing funding for renovations. Finally, after a little help from Catalyst Community Partners, a nonprofit group, the congregation was able to have a simple Christmas Eve service in the nearly finished building, and will have an opening ceremony on January 11 at 10:30 a.m., followed by a reception at Urban League in North Minneapolis.
The building was constructed in 1908 and was the home to Forest Heights Congregational Church. It was designed in the arts and crafts style, according to S.J. Morgan, a development manager for the Ackerberg group, the construction company in charge of the renovations. The arts and crafts movement was a response to Victorian style. Characteristics of arts and crafts architecture include exposed wood trusses, methodical craftsmanship, and rustic appearances.
The Church of Gethsemane, led by Reverend Randolph M. Cooper, began as a bible study group in 2002. Cooper, a Liberian immigrant, led the study group at the Urban League in North Minneapolis. Cooper said in a telephone interview that when his group purchased the building in 2003, they were “turned down by practically every financial institution” to get a loan for the renovations necessary to make the church inhabitable. Through the congregation’s own fundraising efforts, they were able to re-do the windows and turn on the gas, but it wasn’t until Cooper spoke to Stu Ackerberg that the end of the renovations came into sight.
Stu Ackerberg owns Ackerberg Group, a construction company, and is also on the board of directors for Catalyst Community Partners, a nonprofit group that invests in real estate in distressed urban neighborhoods. With the help of Catalyst, and a signature from Stu Ackerberg, the church was able to get a loan from Franklin Bank.
The 4 1/2 month renovation process is nearing completion, and the Church of Gethsemane could not be more pleased. “What used to be a dump is now a palace, so to speak,” said Reverend Cooper. He said the Christmas Eve celebration was a time “to give thanks to God for what he gave to us.”
Sheila Regan is a theater artist based in Minneapolis. When not performing or writing, she serves as educational coordinator for Teatro del Pueblo.