With typical Sunday attendance down to about 50 congregants, Central United Church is putting its downtown landmark building up for sale and looking for a new home in Sault Ste. Marie.
Built between 1910 and 1911 at 160 Spring St. on land donated by Francis H. Clergue, the 14,725-square-foot sandstone structure will be listed on MLS on Monday with an asking price of $799,900.
"It has been a very, very difficult decision," says Diane Marshall, chair of the church council.
Central United has about 120 supporters, struggling to cover annual gas bills between $17,000 and $18,000 and PUC electricity and water bills ranging from $4,800 to $8,800 a year.
"We are a small congregation. It's expensive to maintain, and we have such a little group. We needed to do something," Marshall tells SooToday.
"We reached this after a lot of deliberation and soul-searching."
"Many of our members have been here for 50 years. It's quite upsetting and very sad."
"Our plan is that we will continue to be a congregation and worship together in another setting. We shall continue as Central United congregation."
So far, no decision has been made on a new home for the remaining members.
"We just don't know what the outcome of this will be. There's a possibility that whoever buys it, maybe if they weren't using the church on Sunday mornings, that we would still be able to congregate and rent the church from the new owners," Marshall says.
"It's a magnificent heritage building. It has a majestic pipe organ and a stunning, glorious sanctuary that seats many people and has wonderful acoustics."
"The building has so much charm and character," adds listing agent James Caicco from Century 21 Choice Realty Inc.
"In the last six years, I have sold five churches. You start getting a good idea of what the future use of it will be. In this case, I am not sure. The future use could be a similar institutional use or could be re-purposed to commercial or multi-residential."
"I believe it will attract some solid interest from the market," Caicco says.
What is now Central United Church was originally a Methodist church.
The history of local Methodism started in 1851 when Rev. George McDougall started a mission at Garden River and ministered from there to the Methodist community on Sault Ste. Marie.
The first Methodist meetings in the Sault took place at the Ermatinger Old Stone House.
Henry Simpson, the architect who designed the building at Spring and Albert, was asked to find a building style "indicative of Methodism."
In 1925, the congregation voted to join a union of Methodist, Congregationalist and Presbyterian churches.
The merged congregation became known as Central United Church.
The original building committee included W.H. Hearst, who later became premier of Ontario in 1914.
"Central United Church... cannot be slotted easily into any particular architectural style," says a City of Sault Ste. Marie heritage report prepared in 1985.
"It may be that the succession of building stages together with the strong design input of the building committee severely modified Simpson's original concepts," the report suggests.
"Nevertheless, the church stands today as a very powerfully modelled building in warm local stone, well reflecting the 1897 request of the architect to create a more massive appearance "indicative of Methodism."