Ebbert Memorial United Methodist Church was constructed in 1916 and is five stories tall. Although there is one ramp from street level to sanctuary level, an elevator would allow congregates and community members with mobility issues the ability to access all levels of the church. Photo provided/Bob Schutte
The historic Ebbert United Methodist Church, constructed in 1916 on the same lot where it sits today, is a monument to big, bold architecture. It's five stories of red brick, with tall ceilings inside and magnificent stained glass windows.
If you're in a wheelchair, however, it's difficult to appreciate the full beauty of the old building. There is but a single ramp from the street level to the first-floor sanctuary, making the elevator project there a continued focus.
”We really see a need to have (the church) be more accessible to a wider variety of people,” said Bob Schutte, campaign chairman for the church. ”The whole purpose is to provide accessibility to the church structure for members and the public who wish to participate in the church's activities.”
The two-year-old plan, labeled ”Lifting up body and spirit to build God's kingdom,” is to have a five-stop elevator, going from the basement up through the classrooms to give broad access to the church.
Schutte explained that a large portion of the church's congregation is older, and struggle with mobility issues. Although there are bathrooms that are compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), there isn't access to all activity areas. That keeps some members from joining potlucks in the basement and learning activities upstairs.
”It's really important to us that we get this project done,” he said.
As of March, the congregation had pledged $312,870 and community financial contributions have added another $156,943. With their fundraising target at $437,500, the church has $120,000 more to go.
Reverend June Forthergill said she is excited to make their building more accessible, so more people from the community can participate in the events and services the church provides.
”It will be a dream come true to have a more accessible ministry and to be able to reach out in love to those who struggle with steps or use wheelchairs,” she said.
In January the church commissioned a fundraising campaign, and a design team has been put together - a contribution from an area professional, Schutte said.
”That takes awhile and then there's building permits,” he said. ”It could be awhile until we have it complete.”
For that reason, Schutte has targeted a three-year giving period to raise money for the elevator.
”We will continue efforts with community organizations that make grants, as well as other citizens,” Schutte said.
Along with being a benefit to congregants, an elevator would provide accessibility for community members who participate at the church. Every Wednesday and Saturday night, the church hosts a community meal, as well as a Monday brunch.
There also is a language community program called Downtown Languages, a Hispanic ministry program, and an autism rehabilitation at the church. An alternative school program even uses the church for its music and cooking classes, and Schutte added that mobility limitations aren't just limited to older individuals.
”We have limitations on who can participate now and (an elevator) would open it up to them as well,” he said. ”We're a very community-integrated church organization and we've seen a lot of needs make themselves evident.”