AKRON, Ohio — An Akron church that has been around for more than 70 years is closing its doors at its current location so it can open the doors to a new beginning.
St. Joseph Melkite Catholic Church has been serving the community since 1947 at 600 West Exchange Street. The parish started in 1915 at the corner of Locust Street and Wooster Avenue. It was destroyed by a tornado in 1943.
Four years later, a new church was built at Exchange Street and Rhodes Avenue. The Divine Liturgy of Christmas was the first service to be held.
Father Eugene Mitchell, a pastor at the church for nine years, said the decision to move from its longstanding location came down to a combination of factors.
The neighborhood has changed over the years and so has the number of parishioners who attend. About 40 to 65 families regularly show up for mass.
The building has become too big and the maintenance costs too high.
"The community became much smaller and we became incapable really of sustaining the facility that we're in," Mitchell said.
Mitchell added that the coronavirus pandemic kept many families away from the church, some of whom haven’t returned.
"COVID was kind of the straw that broke the camel's back," Mitchell said.
The church will move to the former location of the Kingdom Hall of Jehovah’s Witnesses, located at 927 North Portage Path in Akron.
Most of the brilliant and colorful icons have been moved to the new Church. The Altar and the pews will be moved within a week.
It has been an emotional time for 83-year-old Angie Cea who has belonged to the church her whole life. She was baptized in the original church and received her First Communion and got married at the Exchange Street location.
"When we first heard about it and we were talking about it, it just broke my heart," Cea said. "I feel the presence of the Lord when I go there and I just feel comfortable. I'm at home there."
Cea is now at peace with decision to relocate, stressing it's about the people not the building.
"It'll be sad next week and then we're gonna start all over again the following week, so we'll build from there," she said.
The last service at the West Exchange Street location will be held on Sunday at 10 a.m.
The first service in the new building will be on Aug. 15 at 10 a.m.
Bishop of Melkites, Nicholas Samra, will travel from Massachusetts to Akron to perform the first service in the new building.
Mitchell said while it’s bittersweet to leave the current location, he's looking forward to a new beginning.
"It says something about hope and I think it says something about the tenacity of the people in the parish," he said. "Please God, we'll get to the point where it's too small for us and we'll have to go shopping for a bigger place."
Mitchell said the old church has been purchased by a different church, but it's not clear what the new owner plans to do with the building.
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