LAPORTE | It might be difficult for many LaPorte residents to imagine the white steeple at St. Paul's United Church of Christ missing from the city's skyline.
The church, built in the late 1800s, will soon be torn down. Pavey Excavating was awarded the contract to demolish the church, 1101 Lincolnway.
Many people, including retired pastor Victor M. Frohne, are having trouble coming to terms with what seems to be the inevitable.
"It's always been a home to come back to," said Frohne, who grew up in the church where his father, Victor P. Frohne, presided over the congregation for 50 years until retiring in the 1970s. The congregation formed in 1867 and was dissolved in August due to a decline in membership.
"The old order of change is giving way to the new. That's the way things go," said Frohne.
Tom Pavey, owner of the demolition company, said work on tearing down the building should start in the next three to four weeks. Crews must wait for asbestos to be removed and utilities disconnected before seeking a demolition permit from the city.
After the congregation dissolved, title to the property was transferred to the parent organization, the Indiana-Kentucky Conference of the United Church of Christ in Indianapolis.
Bill Kiesel, asset manager for the conference, said declining membership over the years left the church without funds to keep up on maintenance. He said repair work along with making the building handicapped accessible and meeting other codes would have exceeded $1 million.
Once the land is cleared, it will be sold and money from the sale placed into a fund used to start churches and save churches that have strong congregations with building maintenance issues, he said.
LaPorte Mayor Blair Milo said there have been rumblings about the building's demise but the city cannot reverse what the private landowners have chosen to do.
"I'm sorry to see such an old building that represents a number of years of history being put on a demolish list but it's a private decision and the entities involved have agreed to make that decision," said Milo.
Kiesel said the decline in membership reflects what is happening at other protestant churches nationwide.
Some people speculate the land will be sold to the adjacent I-U Health LaPorte Hospital for more parking. Kiesel said the hospital has not expressed any interest yet, but he expects to approach the hospital to gauge any interest it might have in the land.