Jason Segedy is Director of the Akron Metropolitan Area Transportation Study.
What is it that animates a religious congregation? What role does its building and its specific site play in furthering its mission? How are people of faith responding to scarcity – in both their own congregation and in the community at large? Is it possible to effectively minister to urban residents without having a physical, permanent presence in the city? What, if anything, can people of faith learn from the grassroots tactical urbanism of the Better Block?
I posted a photo journal to Twitter recently, highlighting an assortment of houses of worship in Akron that have undergone changes in recent years. Some of these congregations have been shuttered permanently, some have relocated to outlying areas and some have been repurposed by both secular and religious organizations, while others have repurposed formerly vacant spaces themselves.
In the coming days and weeks, I’ll be adding some thoughts to on how Akron’s faith community has evolved and changed, and how it is responding to population decline and urban abandonment. I’ll also be examining the complicated relationships between the buildings, the congregants and the community as a whole.
Stay tuned. And, as usual, I’ll have more questions than answers.
As you will read below, some congregations have responded to urban decline by closing their doors due to a lack of financial resources and congregants. Some have followed in the footsteps of many residents and businesses by leaving the city for outlying areas, while others have responded by digging in, establishing a 24/7 community presence, engaging with their neighborhoods and finding ways to minister to, serve and love their neighbors – often managing to do a lot with very little.
- The Anshe Sfard Synagogue on Copley Road was built in 1950 to serve West Akron’s growing orthodox Jewish community. It closed in 1973, relocating to Revere Road in Bath as Akron’s Jewish community began migrating further north and west. Last year, the original building was demolished to make way for a Dollar General.
- St. Peter Roman Catholic Church on Russell Avenue in Southwest Akron closed in 1989. It was originally founded as a Lithuanian ethnic parish. Today, the building is operated by the Diocese of Cleveland as a social service center.
- St. Hedwig Roman Catholic Church on Glenwood Avenue in North Hill closed in 2009. It was originally founded as a Polish ethnic parish. Today, the building is operated by Oriana House, a local social service agency.
- Sacred Heart of Jesus Roman Catholic Church
on Grant Street in South Akron closed in 2010. It originally was founded as a Hungarian ethnic parish. When I was a child in the 1970s, I took Hungarian lessons at the church. Nem tudok magyarul. Beszél itt valaki angolul? Today, the building is operated by Bethel Church, a non-denominational church with three campuses in the Cleveland-Akron area.
- St. Mary Roman Catholic Church on West Thornton Street in South Akron closed in 2009, and then reopened in 2012, after parishioners successfully reversed the Diocese of Cleveland’s decision to close the parish.
- St. Michael the Archangel Byzantine Catholic Church on Crouse Street in Middlebury closed in 2012. It was originally founded as a Carpatho-Rusyn (Ruthenian) ethnic parish. The aging, dwindling congregation was no longer able to afford to maintain the property when it closed.
- High Street Christian Church on High Street in downtown Akron closed in 2012, relocating to Green to be closer to its members. The building is now for sale, and there has been talk of tearing it down to build a new downtown hotel.
- Beth El Congregation on South Hawkins Avenue in West Akron closed in 2012, relocating to White Pond Drive in Akron, about one mile to the west of its original location. The new synagogue serves Akron’s conservative Jewish community, and is co-located with the Shaw Jewish Community Center. The old building has been repurposed as Summit Academy, a local charter school.
- Temple Israel Congregation on Merriman Road in West Hill closed in 2014, relocating to Springside Drive in Bath. This building, built in 1911, was the first permanent home of Akron’s reform Jewish congregation, which was established in 1865. The building is currently for sale.
- St. John/St. Paul Lutheran Church on Bowery Street in downtown Akron will be closing in 2015, due to dwindling membership and a lack of financial resources. Akron Children’s Hospital has purchased the building. St. John was established in 1915 as a Slovak congregation. The congregation is exploring a possible merger with Faith Lutheran Church in Fairlawn.
- Redeemer United Methodist Church on Dayton Street in North Hill remains open, but the congregation is struggling to survive. Membership has dwindled significantly, and today, the church has only around 25 members – nearly all of whom are over the age of 70. Despite extremely limited resources, the church continues to minister to the homeless, to neighborhood residents and to the growing Asian immigrant community in North Hill – often partnering with Bhutanese Christian congregations by sharing resources.
- Urban Vision on Blaine Avenue in North Hill re the former North Hill United Methodist Church
building in 2007, moving to North Hill from the nearby Elizabeth Park neighborhood. The ministry focuses on outreach, education and empowerment, striving to transcend racial and economic barriers between people – a good fit for North Hill, which is Akron’s most ethnically diverse neighborhood.
- City Hope on West Exchange Street in Highland Square recently acquired a long-abandoned former corner store. The small church, comprised of people that live in the neighborhood and currently meet in private homes, is in the process of renovating the building in order to further its mission of spiritual growth and neighborhood revitalization.
- Watlao Siriwathanaram Buddhist Temple on West Crosier Street in Summit Lake did an amazing job of retrofitting an abandoned church building, injecting a bright splash of color and creating a place for spiritual reflection in one of Akron’s poorest and most blighted neighborhoods. When the temple acquired the property, the building was in ruins and awaiting demolition. The adaptive reuse of this property is indicative of the enterprising spirit of Akron’s growing southeast Asian immigrant population.
For more information, to see pictures of the centers listed below, or to read more of Jason’s posts, visit his blog here.