The Provo Community Congregational United Church of Christ kicked off the first phase of its restoration project on Thursday in a "roof breaking" ceremony. It's the first step of a project designed to keep the inside of the building watertight and warm by replacing the roof and fixing heating systems.
Church members and community volunteers kicked off the Keeping the Faith in Downtown Provo campaign in February to raise funds to repair, restore, renovate and expand the church, which is located on University Avenue near Provo's Center Street.
Isaac Paxman, Provo’s deputy mayor, said the congregation was organized in Provo in 1891. The church was built in the 1920s and 1950s and is in need of a lot of renovation, he said.
"We set out with a goal to let this church stand in the future decades. It was reaching a point where if we didn't do something, this probably was going to be sold off into more retail or more apartments. Nothing against retail or apartments, but when you have a church that's had its footing here since 1891, there's this drive to preserve it, and so that's what we set out to do," Paxman said.
During Thursday's roof-breaking ceremony (as opposed to a groundbreaking), roof tiles from the building were ceremoniously smashed to kick off the first phase of reconstruction. Paxman said the event provided a chance to take a short pause and celebrate the ability to get a new roof on the building. He said the community has raised about $600,000 so far and would like to raise another $1.4 million to replace windows and fix other needs on the building.
The Rev. Keith Cupples said that he was led through a direct message from the Lord to work to rebuild the church; and although it seemed impossible, he recognizes help and miracles in the project as they have asked for prayers and support from the congregation.
"We couldn't be more happy or more excited," the Rev. Cupples said.
The congregation is small, and fixing up the church seemed ridiculous to consider, Cupples said. He asks people he talks to understand that he believes the project is inspired and encourages them to ask for revelation from God about what they should do to help. They still need a lot more money to replace windows and stucco, address asbestos, fix wiring and bring the building up to code.
"How that is going to happen, I don't have the foggiest idea. But what I know is to be faithful and to be obedient," the Rev. Cupples said.
He said that there is a "darkness" coming and a different morality, and he wants the church to help the light remain in Provo and to be a physical presence of mercy, grace, compassion and forgiveness.
Paxman is a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, but he has a connection to the church. His grandparents began a Christmas tradition 43 years ago they called "Carols by Candlelight," which they initially held in their home. When the crowd got too big, they searched for a larger venue and eventually found the Provo Community Congregational United Church of Christ. The event is still held at the church each year around Christmas, and the chapel was filled two nights in a row for the program this year.
Paxman said part of what has helped people get behind this project is what happened to the Provo Tabernacle. A massive fire destroyed the building in 2010, and it was later rebuilt by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints to become the Provo City Center Temple. The tabernacle used to host large community events like concerts and even some Catholic masses, but it no longer fills that role. The Provo Community Congregational United Church of Christ building, which sits just two blocks north of the temple, has the potential to take that place in the downtown Provo area, Paxman said.
This fundraising effort isn't just about saving a building, Paxman said, but about strengthening the community.
"It is very much a community asset, is how we visualize this. It is not just one faith doing their thing with their head down. No, they open their doors. … We want that to continue. We think it's worth preserving, and we're grateful that we got enough money so far to at least break the roof and get a new roof going," Paxman said.
Provo Mayor Michelle Kaufusi said when she became mayor she reached out to each of the religions located in Provo and asked them how she could help. The Community Congregational United Church of Christ asked for help with its building. The mayor has been involved in raising funds and bringing attention to the cause, and Paxman represents her office on the fundraising team.
Kaufusi said the building is for the community, that community members can use the building at no cost, and the church welcomes everyone into the building. She said she remembers visiting the building as a child when her mom helped give kindergarten vaccinations there.
"It's old, it's tired, it's worn down, and it's just time to pay some attention to it because we want it to stay in Provo," Kaufusi said. "We would hate to have to lose this, so we're doing all we can to keep it here. And by getting the new roof, that's a step in the right direction."
She said seeing the donations come in has been fantastic and pointed out that "every dollar helps."
The ultimate goal, which would require raising $8 million, would also include an expansion of the chapel and the addition of a pipe organ to make the chapel more useful for concerts and operas, which are already hosted in the space. The chapel also hosts events for Utah Valley University, Scout groups, and Alcoholics Anonymous groups.
Anyone can contribute to the repairs for the church at keepingthefaithprovo.org.