When members of Emmanuel Lutheran Church in Fort Wayne were discussing how to get more space for their growing congregation, one idea was never on the table: Building a new church somewhere else.
"It wasn't even mentioned," says Emmanuel's senior pastor, the Rev. Thomas Eggold.
That's because the church at 917 W. Jefferson Blvd. not only has deep roots in its historic West Central neighborhood but a deep commitment to it as well.
Now it also has a new 9,500-square-foot addition that represents a $2.5 million investment in ministry to members and neighbors.
Eggold says that as early as the 1960s, the congregation, affiliated with the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod, made a strong statement when it added on to its 1868-vintage sanctuary instead of tearing it down or moving to the suburbs.
That ethos continues among the church's current members, many of whom live in West Central or grew up in the neighborhood and maintain ties even though living elsewhere, Eggold says.
Part of the new three-story addition, which connects the sanctuary and the 1960s addition and was dedicated Feb. 28, will house the church's neighborhood food pantry. Another area will serve as an office for the Christian-based Cross Connections Counseling Ministry, while other gathering spaces, including one with a kitchen on the lower level, will be used for ministries with seniors and youth.
Eggold says the congregation's choice of building design was sensitive to its architectural history-minded neighbors, who were consulted during the process. The structure has traditional brick walls but also modern expanses of windows facing West Jefferson Boulevard and Jackson Street.
Architect David West of Fort Wayne's Grinsfelder Associates, which is headquartered in West Central, "used a lot of glass to accentuate our connection to the neighborhood," Eggold says. "It's good for neighbors to see inside – and good to remind us that God has placed us in a community and called us to serve in that community."
Floor-to-ceiling clear glass windows used at the corner of the addition bring the outdoors inside. Large stained-glass windows – they feature abstract designs of the crown, cross, the Bible and the chalice used in Holy Communion – were designed and made by Fort Wayne artist Thomas Lupkin, who has a shop on Broadway in West Central.
The building's contractor was another West Central neighbor, the Hagerman Group.
Even as the building was being planned and built, the pastor notes, the congregation was working on other initiatives to minister to the neighborhood.
Already supporting a growing and nearly 300-student kindergarten-through-eighth-grade Lutheran school , the church also works with students at Fort Wayne Community Schools' Washington Elementary School nearby.
Members tutor Washington students through Literacy Alliance's Project Reads and help with Big Brothers Big Sisters' breakfast and lunch buddies and classroom birthday of the month programs. An annual money drive pays for school supplies for every child at Washington, Eggold says.
Within the last year, Emmanuel also received a $50,000 Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod grant enabling major rehabilitation, such as heating system upgrades and roof repairs at four neighborhood homes owned by senior citizens.
"Our goal was to tangibly demonstrate the love of Christ to our neighbors," Eggold says. "We've done simple things like painting and raking leaves in the neighborhood, but we've tried to look at its needs more comprehensively as well."
The church also recently began praying for the neighborhood, street by street. Eggold notes West Central is "very diverse" racially, ethnically and economically, with both upper-income people, as well as families living in poverty.
Members are encouraged to adopt a street, get to know the people who live there and pray for their specific needs, as well as street- and community-wide problems, he says.
Eggold says the congregation found out how deep its physical roots went when contractors had to tunnel under the old sanctuary in constructing the new building's basement. They found the imposing structure was supported by large square pillars made of fieldstone that in turn were just a few feet on top of bedrock-like glacial till.
"This was (built) all pre-steel. There are no I-beams in this building," he says, adding that finding those rocks, and excavating a large one that now sits in a garden by the entrance, led to the new addition's name, Ebenezer Hall. "Ebenezer" means "stone of help" in Hebrew.
The church wants to be a place neighbors and members can depend on for help and compassion, Eggold says. "Our goal is to truly infuse that into the neighborhood and transform it."