PROVO -- In its heyday the Provo Community Church United Church of Christ had more than 298 attending services. Now the pews are lucky to seat 30 people at any given service.
Though not what is was, the downtown church at 175 N. University Avenue is hoping to remake itself, and in doing so provide a new community gathering place for concerts, exhibits, worship services and more.
A brief history will bring the significance of the church in Provo’s culture to light. First known as the Provo Congregational Church it was officially established in 1891. In 1919 the church united with the Provo Methodist Episcopal Church and the congregation became the Provo Community Congregational Church.
In 1920 the church received an inheritance gift of $30,000 from Meno Trope, a member of the congregation, for a new building. With the build out of Geneva Steel post World War II, the church added the new chapel, an A-Frame mid-century modern design, that remains today as a symbol of downtown.
The church, under Rev. Glen Halbe started what is now the Food and Care Coalition. They had the first Girl Scout Troop in the area, and each year the church is home to the Christmas Carols by Candlelight service. It also regularly hosts the Utah Valley Bell Ringers.
Last year the church committee announced they would be working with developers and the city to take down the 90 year-old Trope building and renovate and update the chapel.
“I didn’t want to see this place close down,” said David Lewis, church liaison and public affairs spokesman. “We were hoping to start this month, but it’s pushed out maybe a year.”
What Lewis and the church would like at the corner location is to become a community gathering place, something that could help replace what was lost by the Provo Tabernacle fire and subsequent change to an LDS Temple.
“In the beginning this building was a gift to the church,” Lewis said. “We’re re-gifting it to the community.”
Lewis said the church is like a Phoenix, in a rebirth and starting again.
“This church means a lot to us,” said Bret Pope, church community outreach. “We want to be a place where everyone is welcome.”
The plans include a mixed use operation of high-end apartments, a restaurant, business offices, and a renovation on the sanctuary that would hold a gathering of up to 400.
The church is hoping to add a new pipe organ in the sanctuary as well. Lewis, also the church organist, said the idea is to have a place for public concerts and recitals.
Lewis and the church council feel that if downtown Provo is becoming a music mecca, the downtown church should provide a place for all kinds of music to be heard.
“We want concerts here,” Lewis said. He went so far as to invite concert venue Velour, a block south of the church, to use the place for larger concerts.
The current problem for developers and the church is figuring out the costly parking issues and how to physically support the A-frame chapel structure while tearing down and rebuilding the rest.
While the church works with developers and the city on the redevelopment project, the delays have caused the church itself to need funds to keep afloat in the interim.
According to Pope a GoFundMe.com account has been set up for the church. They are seeking approximately $5,000. So far they have just under $200.
“We need this to sustain us while all of this is being figured out,” Pope said. “There are not many downtown churches around anymore.”
For information on the project or to donate call Pope at 801-669-4200.