Columbus, Ohio USA
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Church Changes Hands
Over half a century in the Short North
comes to a close for Neil Avenue Baptist Church

By Margaret Marten
September/October 2016 Issue

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Photo © Gus Brunsman III

The Neil Avenue Baptist Church property at Seventh and Neil avenues has changed hands. The church sanctuary, built by a team of volunteers in 1976, along with the adjacent property that includes a house used as an annex, as well as a rental on Seventh Avenue, were donated to H2O Church, an evangelical Christian ministry formed on the Ohio State University campus in 2008.

The Neil Avenue Baptist Church will not be adopting a new worship space. Dr. Bill Reid, who served as pastor for the past 16 years, and his wife Gail, who taught and helped administer the church, have retired. Pastor Reid conducted his last sermon at NABC on August 14, 2016.

The difficulty in reaching new congregants, along with an aging congregation, and physical limitations were major factors in their decision to hand over their church home to H2O, a younger congregation that numbers in the hundreds and is prepared to serve the entire OSU campus and vicinity.

When the Neil Avenue Baptist Church first launched in the early ‘60s as a mission of the Parsons Baptist Church, the congregation was geared mostly toward families, with meetings being held in two local schools, the Hubbard and Everett. Within a few years, the growing church relocated to Neil Avenue in The Circles neighborhood where families abounded at that time. Those families eventually moved to the suburbs, and the congregation dwindled. “The more they moved, the more the church lacked leadership and people to do what needed to be done,” said Reid.

Membership not only dwindled, it scattered and began to age. “We started this downhill spiral,” said Gail. “It was just hard to put the brakes on.” The remaining 20 to 25 active members, mostly elderly, live in Hilliard, Gahanna, Plain City and other outlying areas. With the nucleus of the church uncentralized, it made no sense to sell the property and relocate, yet NABC was determined to maintain an evangelical presence on that corner.

“Over the years, one by one, we’ve seen churches close their doors in that area and be eaten up by Ohio State or by developers, turning them into shops or condos, or razing them to make way for apartments,” said Gail. “We wanted more than that.”

Houses owned by Neil Avenue Baptist Church at the corner of 7th Avenue. The two on the left were torn down to build the sanctuary in 1976.

Before becoming a pastor at NABC, Reid spent 24 years as a student ministry director for the State Convention of Baptists working primarily at the Ohio State University, so he has a special affinity for the H2O ministry and their focus on OSU students. NABC, with its elderly congregants and traditions, was unable to attract young members. The Reids finally decided a few years ago that they would open their doors to other groups and in that way help minister to the needs of many, including the young. H2O was one of those groups who began meeting in their sanctuary.

Although H20 Church gathers regularly on the OSU campus in Hitchcock Hall, an ever-growing population of congregants – graduates with families and professionals who live in Columbus – created an overflow. Jon Shah, one of the founding pastors, explained that the use of the Neil Avenue sanctuary alleviated that problem by providing a separate worship space for the emerging graduate church community. They now have two focus groups: H20 Campus at OSU and H20 City on Neil Avenue. However, after a year or more of meeting on Neil, they determined H2O City needed a permanent home, and when Shah and others turned to the Reids, they were “floored” by their generous offer to hand over the property to H2O Church.

“The congregation that will be in the facility there at Neil Avenue will be focused on how do we love and serve this neighborhood, these people,” said Shah, “and it’s going to start with us just getting to know the neighhorhood.” In a year or two, he says he’s hoping the age range will span from “zero to a hundred.”

Jon Shah, a pastor with H2O Church,
and Bill Reid

H20 has begun to raise $45,000 to restore the sanctuary and the house on Neil. Back in the ‘60s, NABC owned three houses on that northwest corner. Two were torn down in 1976 to construct the sanctuary. The remaining house, used as an annex for fellowship and meetings, is not in particularly good shape, said Gail. “There’s an attic that we’re not really able to use and a basement that we’re scared to go down into.”

The Reids have retired to their home in Reynoldsburg, and like their fellow congregants are scouting out a new church to attend in their area.

When he first began pastoring at NABC 16 years ago, Reid said he learned that the elderly required a lot more caring than college students. “Younger people sometimes you can, you know, kind of let go a little bit, but a lot of the older folks needed more attention, more time.” When asked what his greatest accomplishment was over the years, he said it was ministering and caring for those same people. Over a dozen congregants have passed away during his tenure. “Caring for them, helping them through the difficult days and then helping those who are still there, ministering to their needs.” The church as a whole, he added, was welcoming, and he’s proud of that legacy. “Our church was open, and it didn’t matter who you were, you were welcome, and loved and cared for. We used to say ‘people first.’ If there was a legacy to our church that would be it.”

See Photo Page of Neil Avenue Baptist Church anniversary event on July 24, 2016

© 2016 Short North Gazette, Columbus, Ohio. All rights reserved.

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