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Developer gives Ohio church a second life

Bob Shope and Chuck Schuster stand inside Trinity Lutheran Church in Canton, Ohio, March 15. Steve Coon, a local developer and preservationist bought the church, which closed last year due to declining membership. (AP photo by Scott Heckel, The Canton Repository)

By Ed Balint
The Repository

Canton, OH (AP) — From the outside, Trinity Lutheran Church is distinct and spiritually inspiring.

Hand-chiseled sandstone covers the exterior. The rock was quarried from the Massillon area, with no two pieces alike.

The words of a hymn by Martin Luther are carved into the stone facade: “A MIGHTY FORTRESS IS OUR GOD.”

Inside the church, the character and architecture are even more impressive.

A path of Italian marble leads to the altar. Most visually stunning is a massive stained-glass window, comprising 1,500 individual pieces and bejeweled with a rainbow of colors. The window depicts Jesus blessing young children.

Steve Coon, a local developer and preservationist, said he considers the illuminated stained-glass window and the entire church to be works of art. That’s the reason he bought the building, which closed last year due to declining membership. The chapel will be rented out for wedding services.

“When you walk through it … it has the awe factor,” said Coon, owner of Coon Restoration & Sealants in Nimishillen Township. “I felt if I didn’t (acquire it) there’s nobody else coming forward to say, ‘I’d like to buy that.’

“It was just too good of a church and had too good of bones to walk away from. I had a responsibility.”

Coon also has sentimental ties to the church. As a teenager, he cleaned the sandstone at Trinity Lutheran, working for a restoration business in the summer.

Chuck Schuster, managing partner of the Canton Club Event Center, will book the weddings while offering to cater receptions at the historic Canton Club in Chase Tower in downtown Canton.

“It really made sense,” said Coon, who owns or part owns some other downtown properties, including Chase Tower and the former Martin Luther Lutheran Church site on Walnut Avenue North East. “Now we’re a one-stop church.”

Schuster agreed.

“We just felt it was a natural tie-in,” he said, “with the historical nature of the Canton Club and the historical nature of the church.”

The building will continue to house Urban Ark, a combined ministry of several churches that serves area needy.

Trinity Lutheran was designed by the late Guy Tilden, who also was the architect of the Case Mansion and the former Carnegie Library, which now houses the Schulman Zimmerman & Associates law firm in downtown Canton.

Completed in 1886, Trinity Lutheran was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in the 1980s. The sanctuary holds about 350 people.

Prior to closing, the church averaged about 40 people at Sunday services, said Bob Shope, a former member and church council president. Shope will be the wedding coordinator.

Pointed arched doorways connect the narthex to the chapel. An abundance of stained glass is sprinkled throughout the church, including rose windows. Hand-carved oak pews creak when you sit down.

Stations of the Cross grace the walls. Twin pulpits are Gothically styled and constructed of Italian marble. A baptismal font is made of stone.

Romanesque columns, swirled with greenish-brown hues, guard the altar, fronted by a shiny brass railing that opens and closes like a gate.

For wedding purposes, the church will be known as Historic Trinity Chapel.

The rental fee is $875, which includes use of the sound system, cleanup services, rehearsal time and a wedding coordinator, Schuster said.

The rental fee does not include a minister. Wedding couples can select a pastor or ask Schuster for a referral.

Copyright 2021 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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