Colette M. Jenkins

Carla Long is overcome with sadness every time she sees the unoccupied church building in her East Buchtel Avenue neighborhood.


“It’s heartbreaking. That church has been a beacon of light in this neighborhood,” said Long, 46. “We always called it a hospital because it was a place where you could go for comfort and healing.”


Long is a recovering addict who found support at Holy Spirit Church when it was located at 825 E. Buchtel Ave. The congregation moved out of the building in July, after losing it in a court battle.


The Holy Spirit congregation is among five Northeast Ohio parishes that were displaced after a Cuyahoga County Common Pleas judge ruled that the church properties they occupied belonged to the Episcopal Diocese of Ohio.


The five congregations — Holy Spirit; St. Luke’s, Fairlawn; St. Barnabas, Bay Village; St. Anne in the Fields, Madison; and Church of the Transfiguration, Cleveland — left the Episcopal Church in 2003 and realigned with the Anglican Communion.


The split grew from disagreements over biblical teaching on salvation and other issues, including homosexuality. After the Episcopal Church consecrated its first openly gay bishop, V. Gene Robinson of New Hampshire, in 2003, some of the more theologically conservative parishes, including the five in Northeast Ohio, disaffiliated from the Episcopal Church and realigned themselves with Anglican organizations that share their views on issues like homosexuality.


In March 2008, the diocese sued, asking the county court to declare that the property associated with the five parishes belongs to the diocese and the Episcopal Church. Last April, the court ruled in favor of the Episcopal Church and the diocese. Several months later, the Anglican congregations began vacating the buildings.


All five congregations have been taken in by other churches — Church of the Transfiguration worships at a former Methodist building on Martin Luther King Drive in Cleveland; St. Anne’s worships in the youth center at Cornerstone Friends Church in Madison and St. Barnabas, now Christ Church Westshore, has weekday services at Bay Presbyterian Church Westshore and a 10 a.m. Sunday service at Bay High School in Bay Village.


Locally, Holy Spirit’s congregation worships at 10 a.m. Sundays in the fellowship hall at Bethel Church, 734 Grant St. in Akron. There also is a lunchtime ministry that begins at 11:30 a.m. on Wednesdays. The ministry is supported by several other congregations, including those at Bethel and St. Luke’s.


St. Luke’s, whose corporate name is now St. Luke’s Ministries, worships at 10 a.m. Sunday in the fellowship hall at St. Thomas Eastern Orthodox Church, 555 S. Cleveland-Massillon Road in Fairlawn, and has a 4:30 p.m. Saturday service at its ministry center, 3810 Ridgewood Road in Copley Township.


“One of the great things that has come from this is that we don’t just have a renter’s relationship with St. Thomas. It’s a genuine friendship,” said the Rev. Michael Kraynak, pastor at St. Luke’s. “All of the five churches have been instrumental in unifying the Christian community because each is involved in a relationship where one Christian community is helping another.”


St. Luke’s moved its services to St. Thomas in late November. In the last two months, the two congregations have grown closer. Although they each have their own services, the congregations have come together on several occasions.


“Even though we were at a place where we didn’t know where we were going to go, after the court ruling, God was doing much more in the midst,” Kraynak said. “The Lord has done something in our vision and our heart to help us see that we can do much more to serve others when we are in relationship with others. Mission, for us, is more important than a building.”


The properties that were once home to St. Luke’s at 565 S. Cleveland-Massillon Road in Fairlawn and Holy Spirit at 825 E. Buchtel Ave. are for sale with Grubb & Ellis Co. The Cleveland real-estate company also is selling the properties in Madison and Cleveland. The Bay Village property has been restarted as an Episcopal Church by the diocese.


“The Bay Village location was one that we really wanted to keep. Most of the others have Episcopal churches nearby,” said Martha Wright, spokeswoman for the diocese. “Until the other buildings are sold, the diocese is still responsible for them.”


The former St. Luke’s property is listed as a 26,186-square-foot single-story structure, with 425 parking spaces, located on 20.27 acres that can be adapted for office or medical use. The listing suggests that the property is “ideal for congregate care, continued religious use, public/private schooling, hospitals and cultural institutions.” It is priced at $1.9 million.


The former Holy Spirit property consists of a 1,880-square-foot house and a 5,682-square-foot church, with 45 parking spaces on .65 acre. It is listed for $159,000.


David Hollister, of Grubb & Ellis, said that in the two months that he has had the listings, both properties have had two showings and one offer. He said that while the Fairlawn property could serve a different use, the Buchtel property is likely to be sold to another religious community.


The Rev. Scott Souders, pastor of Holy Spirit, said he hopes that the Buchtel property will go to a ministry dedicated to outreach in the neighborhood.


“We were doing some really effective ministry there and it would be nice to have the presence of another ministry there to continue meeting the needs of the people,” Souders said. “We still go back to the neighborhood and do ministry but our presence is missing. Still, we are committed to touching lives and bringing other ministries together to help us minister to people where they are.”


Long, who still considers Holy Spirit her church home, said she is not always able to travel to the new location. So, she regularly attends a church that is closer to her home.


“It’s just a shame that a church that has done so much to lift up the people in this neighborhood is no longer here,” Long said. “It was a place that everyone knew they could go to and find comfort without judgment. People had respect for the building because of what the people inside were doing.


“Since it closed, my husband and I have chased people who were drinking from the front porch. We’ve found drug paraphernalia near the church house and mattresses behind the church. Lord only knows what they were being used for. This neighborhood needs a safe place for people to go, not a closed church building.”


Colette Jenkins can be reached at 330-996-3731 or cjenkins@thebeaconjournal.com.