Photo by Josiah Pensado.

Should I Stay or Should I Go?

First Christian Church downtown is facing problems of money, support and what to do with its historic 1911 building

Eugene’s First Christian Church is face-to-face with quite the predicament due to the declining number of volunteers who run their programs. The church either shares the building with other organizations, or relocates the congregation to another building completely. 

First Christian, the large white church at 1166 Oak Street, has long been hailed as a historic building, with its neoclassical architecture and Gothic style stained glass windows depicting the story of Christ and his disciples. After its cornerstone was set in 1911, First Christian expanded rapidly, solidifying its presence downtown with the addition of the bell tower in 1926. 

It’s not on the city of Eugene’s registry of landmark buildings or the National Register of Historic Places because the congregation has declined to place it there. Buildings on national register that are owned by an individual, nonprofit or business are eligible for loans for maintenance, restoration and repair from the city’s historical loan program of between $5,000 and $20,000. 

According to its pastor, Rev. Zane Ridings, the church has been operating in the red since June 2019. “Our church, under the current given budget structure, won’t be able to afford to stay here for a long period of time,” he says. 

The congregation has begun looking to move to other buildings, most notably the old Greyhound bus station at 10th and Pearl. Ridings says the congregation would like to stay downtown so the services that they offer would still be accessible to the community. “That’s fundamentally what this is all about, is how we can keep being a church and how can we do it for downtown Eugene?” he says. 

One option that has come to the table for First Christian’s task force would be selling the building and turning it into a community center, senior living, affordable housing, concert hall or concert venue. 

Before the church could sell the building, it would need to be retrofitted to reduce liability. None of the ways in or out of the building are compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act. The elevator only goes up from the basement and second floor while not being able to go up to the third floor. The bathrooms are also not ADA compliant, Ridings says.

Facilities coordinator Trevor Eubanks says the congregation is looking more towards staying and partnering with other organizations so that the church could remain part owners. First Christian has talked with Bushnell University to expand its campus and music ministry, as well as Homes for Good to expand housing opportunities. 

“With the way that property values are now, I mean, if you were to sell this building, even with the money that we garnered from that, it’s highly unlikely that we would end up with a space that would be anywhere close to this square footage for the price,” Eubanks says. 

During the winter and summer, First Christian offered a shuttle that would take houseless individuals to a warming shelter at Episcopal Church of the Resurrection on Hilyard Street in south Eugene. First Christian also offers its Helping Hearts clothes drive, and the church distributes clothes every Tuesday and Thursday from noon to 2 pm. 

Eubanks and Ridings are optimistic that the congregation can stay and still offer such services to the community when in need.

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