BLACKSBURG — For 110 years, the stained glass windows and lavish woodwork of the church at 110 E. Roanoke St. surrounded Presbyterian and Church of God congregations.
Now there’s a new group of believers in one of Blacksburg’s oldest houses of worship.
Earlier this month, the First Church of God, the building’s occupant since 1959, reached an agreement to share its space with The River Church, an Anglican congregation whose free-wheeling, come-as-you-are style of worship has moved through several homes in recent years.
Today, The River Church is celebrating its new home with an 11:15 a.m. pancake brunch, immediately after its 9:30 a.m. service, aimed at returning college students. Next Sunday, The River Church will have a hot dog and hamburger grill-out after its service. The events are open to the public and there is no charge for food.
For the Church of God, whose services now attract only about 30 or 35 people to a sanctuary that can seat 350 — not to mention the kitchen-equipped fellowship hall in a separate building — sharing space brings in some rent to help maintain the facility, Pastor David Ansley said last week. For The River Church’s larger congregation — about 100 to 125 each week when college students are in town — the new home ends the hours-long weekly process of setting up and tearing down that accompanied services in more multi-use spaces, Pastor Jonathan Tagg said.
For both congregations, sharing a facility brings a shot of new energy.
“This is not strictly a financial-based decision,” Ansley said last week. “This is a spiritual-based decision.”
Tagg agreed. “The spirit is one of collaboration,” he said.
The First Church of God building was constructed in 1904 as Blacksburg’s Presbyterians sought a larger replacement for their initial facility, which was a building that eventually became the South Main Café, a town musical landmark for decades, and now houses the Cabo Fish Taco restaurant. Fifty-five years later, the Presbyterians had moved to their present church on Eakin Street.
By that point, the Church of God was holding services in a former Baptist church farther up Roanoke Street, where a 7-11 store is now. When that building burned down around Christmas 1958, the Church of God congregation was offered space in numerous churches around town, Ansley said.
The congregation soon purchased the former Presbyterian church at 110 E. Roanoke St. After 55 years in the building, church leaders decided that having extra space was an opportunity to reach out to another congregation in a way that recalled how Blacksburg’s churches aided the Church of God members after the long-ago fire, Ansley said.
The River Church had most recently been meeting in the Custom Catering ballroom across Blacksburg. The church has an electric band, and drums and sound equipment had to be put together and cleared away again for each service. Just not having to do that anymore is a huge improvement, Tagg said. And besides having a built-in sound system and an area for band equipment, the First Church of God has a kitchen and meeting rooms for different age groups’ Sunday school classes — all pluses, Tagg said.
And the First Church of God has a pipe organ, which has been rarely used in recent years but which Tagg said his mother might begin playing for services.
Then there’s the church building’s appearance. The River Church bills itself as “blue-jean friendly.” It has many members who are not familiar with what a traditional sanctuary can look like, Tagg said.
The stained-glass windows, which are thought to be Tiffany, the dark wood beams and panels, the soaring ceiling all contribute to the sense of “a sacred, spiritual space,” Tagg said.
Sundays are to be split between the two congregations, with The River Church members gathering for coffee in the fellowship hall at 9 a.m., holding a service in the sanctuary at 9:30, then returning to the fellowship hall for potluck meals and classes at 10:45.
The Church of God congregation plans to hold sanctuary services at 11 a.m., then move to the fellowship hall at 12:30 p.m.
Ansley said that during the first shared Sunday, two weeks ago, the transition happened so seamlessly that one of his long-time congregation members remarked he could not tell that anyone else had even been in the sanctuary, much less held a service there.
Tagg said that he has been telling newcomers that if The River Church’s services seem too informal, they should try the Church of God later in the morning.
“People prefer different worship styles. … We’re working together instead of competing,” Tagg said