After about two years spent making plans, filing paperwork, and biding their time through a pandemic, the True Life Youth Ministries is embarking this weekend on a capital campaign to raise funds to renovate the former Christ Presbyterian Church at 1300 W. Maple St. into a youth center for the Lebanon community.

“We were given the church two years ago,” Jerry E. Higley, executive director of True Life Youth Ministries, told LebTown on Thursday. “We thought we’d have the renovations done and be moved in by now. But here we sit.”

There were “no major problems” in the process, Higley explained. “The process just has been slow. Talking to other builders and construction companies, we’ve learned that’s fairly typical.”

The “Build Hope” campaign will kick off with an event starting at 10 a.m. Saturday in the 152-year-old church. The campaign has a target of $1.2 million for various expansions and improvements to the 3.4-acre site, and it will begin on Saturday with an auction of items from the historic church.

The congregation of Christ Presbyterian donated the church and surrounding land to True Life Youth Ministries, formerly known as Lebanon Valley Youth For Christ, in November 2020. The organization was founded in 1945 with the mission “of building a community of young lives changed by Jesus Christ,” according to a press release.

“The True Life Youth Center will be a safe, healthy environment where kids can enjoy being kids,” the release states. “It will be a place where students experience a sense of family. A place where they can be taught life skills. A place to help prepare them for their future. Most importantly, this home will be a sacred place where students of all ages will be introduced to Jesus and where their faith will grow.”

Higley hopes to break ground on renovations in February or March.

Christ Church was built in 1870 by G. Dawson Coleman and Deborah B. Coleman “for the spiritual benefit of the furnace workers and their families.” In 1890, Christ Church became Christ Presbyterian Church.

True Life is committed to carrying on the mission of the Coleman family, Higley said.

The Christian youth group is currently housed in the lower level of Calvary Chapel, formerly Lebanon Catholic, at 741 Willow St. They have leased the space for the past nine years, Higley said. “When we move out, I don’t know what the church will do with the space.”

Plans for expansion

Higley said they hope to have the property ready for use by the time school resumes in the fall.

True Life’s staff, volunteers and the young people who use its services are excited to see their plans come to fruition, he said.

“The cornerstone of the property is this 152-year-old church that was built by the Coleman family,” Higley said. “We’re going to leave that pretty much as it is. It’s a really nice space. Maybe 26 or 27 years ago, the congregation built a social hall that’s connected to the stone church. That space has offices, classrooms, a kitchen, a small gym … and that’s also a really nice space.”

Plans call for general repairs and renovations, and an addition to the social hall that will extend the gymnasium by about 33 feet, expand the kitchen and add a dining room area “so we can provide hot meals for the kids.”

“This will allow us to have more programs and activities,” he added.

A street view of Christ Presbyterian Church at 1300 W. Maple St., Lebanon. (Google Maps)

They also will be able to make use of the 3.4 acres surrounding the structures. However, Higley said, “the biggest advantage is having Coleman Park just up the street from us.”

The youth group currently serves 125 to 150 kids each week, the director said. Those numbers were higher before COVID-19, he said, and he expects them to grow again once the new center opens its doors.

“The kids love it,” Higley said. “They love that it will be our home. They love that it’s just outside of town, there’s space there, there are trees there. And, it’s still within walking distance for most of the kids who come to our programs.”

True Life currently has three full-time and six part-time people on staff, plus “countless volunteers who help with our programs, fundraising events,” Higley said.

“We’ve never had a shortage of kids. We’ve always had lots of kids, sometimes too many kids — we didn’t have the space or volunteers,” he said. “This will really open up the doors for a lot of growth.”

Auction will feature vintage pieces

The auction includes more than 100 items, many of which are historical pieces from Christ Presbyterian Church.

“We’re selling a wooden pulpit that I think they’ve had since the beginning,” Higley said.

According to the auction website, highlights “include a heavily carved eagle podium in the American style, sterling silver communion plates, sanctuary furniture, original portico, marble steps, candelabras, and many more items of historic significance.”

Bidding is already open online, Higley said. Online bidding will be open right through the live auction, so people can bid from home, he added.

Proceeds from the sale will benefit the capital campaign.

A screen grab of the first several items up for bid in the True Life Youth Ministries auction to benefit their capital campaign.

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Tom Knapp

Tom has been a professional journalist for nearly four decades. In his spare time, he plays fiddle with the Irish band Fire in the Glen, and he reviews music, books and movies for Rambles.NET. He lives with his wife, Michelle, and has four children: Vinnie, Molly, Annabelle and Wolf.

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