PORTSMOUTH—Many commuting through Portsmouth this week may have been dismayed to see a pile of stones where the original building of Central Church of Christ once stood. But Thayer Wallace, Senior Minister of Central Church of Christ, wants the community to know that while the original building may no longer stand, the mission of the church remains stronger than ever.
Walking past the rubble as demolition crews work to carefully preserve the original blocks from the foundation of the church, Wallace tells me that it is his hope to compassionately preserve what the building itself meant to the community.
“We are trying to move forward, but also honor the past a bit,” Wallace explained. “There’s been quite a bit of pessimism about the fact that we are tearing down the old building. I think in people’s minds, the church building was the same as it was 30-40 years ago, but unfortunately church buildings get older,” he added with a sheepish chuckle.
Wallace and his congregation have been meeting for the bulk of their ministry in the “new building” of the church, which sits directly next to where the demolition of the “old building” took place. Therefore, services have not been disrupted.
Originally, it was Wallace’s intention to repair portions of the old building in order to add space for children’s classrooms. It became clear very quickly in that process that the building wasn’t salvageable.
“It needed to happen. It was definitely getting to the point where it was actively becoming a liability for us to have that building. Stuff was constantly falling from the ceiling—the building was falling apart,” he explained.
Wallace, who became Senior Minister of the church two years ago, says that for as long as he has been leading the church, the bulk of their sermons and classrooms has taken place in the current building. He honors the fact that the old building held great significance for many congregants and Portsmouth residents but knows that a church extends beyond those walls.
“It’s always been part of the plan, we are going to move forward. That building was not our future, which is hard for a lot of people to hear. Trying to move forward with compassion is one of the things that I’ve tried to be about for two years. I was brought in to really move the church forward,” Wallace explained.
Wallace said that the shared goal of the congregation at Central Church of Christ is to be a church who truly serves their community. He and the congregation through community partnerships offer sports camps, outreach services, and even a sock and shoe ministry for children and adults in need—a program which now needs a new home with the old building being demolished.
“We’ve adopted ‘For 5662’ [pronounced “45662,” as in Portsmouth’s zip code] as our mantra that we are going to be for this area. That’s our desire, and the truth is that Portsmouth doesn’t need just another building to look at. It needs churches and communities of Jesus followers that are going to be investing in and caring for their communities.”
“It’s great that people enjoy driving by and looking at our building, but that’s not why we are here,” Wallace explained. “We can’t be just about that. We are not just going to keep a museum on our site.”
The interior of the current church building is adorned with canvas prints of the “old building” throughout the years. And while Wallace and his congregation are dedicated to evolving with the needs of their community, they are still invested in preserving the history and core values of Central Church of Christ.
And if anyone who drove past the demolition was sad to see it go, Wallace invites them to join the congregation for a service so that they can see all they’ve been up to, and everything that is still yet to come.
“Our full purpose for being here is to be for our community and to bring Jesus into the community—not just for the community to come into our space. We are about inviting people into the Jesus community, and that’s what being part of a church is. We are inviting you into being a part of a community who love Jesus and who live for Him,” he said.
“This church was built by people who were clearly not afraid to move the mission forward,” Wallace added. “They built [the original building], then added on, and added on. They weren’t afraid to continue to do what they believed was best to reach the community. Now, for us in 2022, moving forward for us means taking the next step. And we’re not done.”
To livestream worship services or to learn more about Central Church of Christ, visit their website at: central-church.life. For anyone interested in helping the church house their shoe and sock ministry, call the church at: (740) 353-5846.