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Provo faith leader hopes historic church fundraiser and renovation also builds interfaith unity

SHARE Provo faith leader hopes historic church fundraiser and renovation also builds interfaith unity
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People of various faiths are collaborating to raise funds to restore Provo Community Congregational United Church of Christ located at 175 N. University Avenue in Provo and turn it into a community gathering place.

Isaac Hale, Daily Herald

In 2020, the Rev. Keith Cupples said he received a divine vision instructing him to renovate the 130-year-old Provo Community Congregational United Church of Christ building.

One year later, people of various faiths are collaborating, donating time and expertise to raise upwards of $2 million to restore the historic church and establish it as a community gathering place, promoting unity in the process.

“We have some wonderful persons who have been nudged by God to join us who are members of other denominations,” said the Rev. Cupples, the pulpit supply pastor for the Provo congregation. “As we help each other, this becomes more than just a building.”

The “Keeping the Faith in Downtown Provo” fundraising campaign to restore the church, located at 175 N. University Avenue in Provo, started in February and will continue until February 2022. So far the campaign has received about $80,000, the Rev. Cupples said.

Organizers emphasized that all donations are for the building’s restoration, not general church use.

Depending on how much money is raised, organizers hope to replace the 100-year-old tile roof, repair the the building’s exterior and add a new pipe organ, among many other needs and improvements.

Before it burned down in 2010, the Provo Tabernacle served as a large center for community activities. When it was rebuilt into the 150th temple of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, a need for a new community gathering place arose. The Provo Community Congregational United Church of Christ, about three blocks from the temple, was identified as a place where people of all faiths are welcome, but it needs a major upgrade, the Rev. Cupples said.

“This building needs to be renovated. It’s in terrible disrepair,” he said. “But this is more than a renovation project, this is a God project, a spiritual project in concert with others. We want to continue to erase the lines that say we’re competitors as different Christian denominations.”

For decades, the church has been home to Easter and Holy Week community interfaith services, as well as Messiah sing-alongs.

In addition to religious worship services, the church has accommodated various community events, such as Boy Scout troop meetings, plays, recitals, concerts, addiction support groups and more over the years.

Of the more than 20 people or so helping to organize the restoration effort, Isaac Paxman, Provo’s deputy mayor, is one of several Latter-day Saints volunteering on the service project. More than 40 years ago his grandparents started the longstanding tradition of Carols by Candlelight. In fact, Paxman’s first visit to the church happened when he took his future wife on a date to Carols by Candlelight.

“To me, this is kind of a modern parallel to a barn raising, where we’ve got someone who needs to do more with their roof than they have power to do on their own, and it’s going to take a lot of the community to come and help,” Paxman said.

Paxman agrees with the Rev. Cupples that God is in this project and believes it can help bring people of different beliefs and backgrounds together.

“Everybody I’ve seen involved with this has the vision that this is such a clean opportunity to connect and help each other. There’s no funky vibe of doctrinal differences to navigate or anything else like that,” he said. “As desperately as we need the money coming in, we’re also enjoying the process of connecting and learning more about each other. The chance to work side by side is almost more beautiful than the new roof.”

David Lewis, the building manager and organist for the congregation, said organizers are collecting personal stories related to the church to submit with an application to the National Register of Historic Places and a grant from the National Fund for Sacred Places. It’s one more thing on a long list that’s keeping everyone busy.

“This is like an extra full-time job for all of us,” Lewis said, “but we’re excited for it.”

To learn more about “Keeping the Faith in Downtown Provo” project, visit keepingthefaithprovo.org.