ELKHART — Trinity Lutheran Church needs space.
Every weekend members haul sound equipment and chairs out of lockers and equipment closets to set up for worship services in the Trinity Lutheran School gymnasium. And every weekend they move everything back into storage before school starts for the week. Even the baptismal font has to be moved out of the way to a storage closet.
But soon, the congregation will have a worship space of its own again.
Trinity Lutheran Church will have a groundbreaking ceremony this Sunday to begin construction on its new church building on C.R. 6.
“It’ll be wonderful to be in our new church,” Senior Pastor Robert Schallhorn said. “It will be a new day.”
Trinity Lutheran moved out of its former building near Elkhart General Hospital in 2012. At the time, the church had worship services at both its West Boulevard location and the school on C.R. 6. The congregation voted in 2010 to sell the building on West Boulevard and hold services at only one campus.
“Proposals were made (in 2010) to sell our former campus and engage an architect,” Schallhorn said.
Schallhorn said the school property was bought with the intention of eventually building a church on the same campus. Construction on the school began in 2001, he said, and the congregation began meeting in the gymnasium for worship services shortly after the school was built. Growing attendance at the school service led Trinity Lutheran leaders to re-evaluate the service structure.
Spencer Mielke came to the church fresh out of school to take on the role of assistant pastor in 1998, the year the congregation started raising funds for a new Trinity Lutheran School building. He has only known the church in transition, he said.
“It’s gone so fast,” Mielke said. “But when you look back — how long it’s taken to move a congregation.”
Some members of the congregation have been worshiping in the school gymnasium for 11 years now, Mielke pointed out. The congregation has been in transition for 16 years, since members first started raising funds for the new school.
“The congregation is very ready to have a church again,” Mielke said. “I think people are ready now for a permanent home.”
Construction on the new church building will begin in June. Mielke said it should be complete in summer 2015.
The new sanctuary will be connected to the school via a new entry hall.
“We wanted to make a statement, architecturally, that we are a church and a school,” Mielke said. “There is a connection.”
Part of the building project will be expanding the office space for school and church staff. But the expansion won’t give Trinity surplus space, the pastors say — it will let the church go back to normal.
“We literally have staff members in closets,” Schallhorn said.
Even Schallhorn’s office functions as a storage space for some church items — there are two shovels leaning on the wall that were used during the school’s ceremonial groundbreaking over a decade ago.
As well as storage space, the new church building will include a gathering area for churchgoers to chat before and after services, something the school building could not provide.
Architect Paul Barribeau is re-purposing portions of the old church, including the altar and the baptismal font, as parts of the new design, Schallhorn said. He said he believes the final transition into a new church building next summer will energize the Trinity Lutheran community.
“The energy we have to put into setting up and tearing down every week we can put into other ways of serving,” Mielke said.
Schallhorn and Mielke said they hope the new space will allow Trinity Lutheran to focus on serving the community.
“This is the final piece of a strategy the congregation adopted in 1998,” Mielke said. “It’s trying to put Trinity in a place to do ministry for decades to come.”