TALENT — It's not often that the oldest building in a town is given away.
But Grace Bible Church found itself on the receiving end when Talent Bible Chapel decided to cease operations and gave its 1871 church building to the congregation. Retirement of 88-year-old Pastor Elliott Lovelace last fall prompted the gift.
"We talked it over among ourselves. We decided it's just time to fold it up," said Lovelace. "Instead of being responsible for selling the property — that could get entangled — we just gave it to them. It's a beautiful spot, and you'd have to sell it to a church."
Grace Bible relocated from a 6,000-square-foot former gym and physical therapy building it rented a couple blocks north of the church, which is at 303 E. Main St.
"It's a beautiful and very historic building. It came as quite a shock when they decided to give us the building," said Senior Pastor Tim Titus.
The previous location had more space than Grace Bible Church needed. "Being in a chapel-type environment is more conducive to a service," said Titus. "Having a permanent home is always nice."
Grace Bible Church usually has about 60 worshipers for Sunday services, ranging from young families to senior citizens. Talent Bible Chapel had a congregation of 20 mostly older people.
"I got acquainted with Tim," said Lovelace. "We checked them out. We wanted something that was similar to our mission. We teach the Bible, and they teach the Bible. Some of our people are going there right now."
Talent Bible Chapel member Nancy Michaelis said she and some others now attend Ashland Bible Church, while other members go to different churches.
"It kind of makes it sad because we miss all the people, but we will keep in touch with them," said Michaelis.
Grace Bible Church moved in during February and has updated the building's interior. Sheetrock was installed and painted, new carpet laid, interior doors changed, and restrooms remodeled to provide disabled access. Some older windows may be replaced, but no other renovations are planned at this time, said Titus.
The building is the town's oldest standing structure, according to an article by historian Jan Wright. Records show Horace Root gave land for the church to Baptists in 1871.
An 1873 road survey notes the location of the church along what later became Talent Avenue. But the church is no longer at that location. In the 1920s, merchant Tom Hall wanted the land for a store, so he offered to move the church a short distance to Main Street and threw in a new roof with the deal.
When the Missionary Baptists moved to another location in the early 1970s, the Beebe family, which owned the building, talked about selling it. But many locals wanted it retained as a church, said Lovelace, whose newly formed group had been meeting in what is now part of Ray's Market.
Talent Bible Meetings was incorporated as a nonprofit charitable organization to purchase the church in 1973. Lovelace taught in the building for the next 40 years until he and his wife, Mary, moved to Kingman, Ariz., to be near a daughter.
Information about Grace Bible Church can be found at www.gracebiblechurch.net.
Tony Boom is a freelance writer living in Ashland. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.