By Chris Wilson/Monroe Journal
AMORY – The wooden collection plates are still up by the altar at the historic, former First Christian Church on 3rd Street North.
While plans are in the works to convert the church into a community cultural and performing arts center called The Windows of Amory MS, no one intends to get rid of the collection plates because money is still badly needed for this ambitious civic project.
The first hurdle was crossed last Wednesday when the Windows of Amory group got a mortgage to buys the historic building that dates back to 1926,
According to steering committee member Faye Pickle, Amory Federal Savings and Loan worked with the non-profit group to a six-month balloon mortgage that will allow it to raise funds for several more months before taking out a 15- or 20-year mortgage on the building.
Pickle’s mother, Gloria Herring, has led the movement to secure this building for the arts. Herring’s roots go back to when her grandparents were once members of the church.
Herring felt their spirit pulling her along when she initiated the effort to buy the former church. It did not take long for others in the community to jump on board in support of the project.
Not wishing to see the historic two-story brick, 9,000-square-foot structure that has 14-foot original tin ceilings destroyed or altered, Herring offered to put a sizable down payment on the building and started an effort to mobilize a group of like-minded citizens to make the vision become a reality.
Since that initial step, Herring and other steering committee members worked tirelessly to clean and ready the facility for its first public event – an open house – that was held Sunday.
The turnout surprised and encouraged the group. With live instrumental music wafting through the sanctuary, and the basement rooms bustling with fundraising efforts and refreshments, the building that has sat empty for so long again had life flowing through it.
When visitors first enter the church, they are struck by the magnificent stained glass windows.
The public was able to get a closeup look at a building that could hold much potential for it and future generations as the old church becomes a cultural and performing arts venue.
One of Sunday’s guests, Peggy Plunkett, said she is touched by the idea of preserving the building for the arts.
“I was baptized in this church when I was 11,” she recalls. “I just cried when I thought this place might be torn down. We used to sit in the sixth pew on the left hand side on Sundays. It was our place.”
Plans for the building include a Holiday Market Nov. 19-21 with local artists as vendors.
According to Pickle, the historic venue will be available to the public to use for a wide range of creative and cultural events. A private wedding is already scheduled in the facility for November and a film festival is planned for January.
“We are also looking at other ideas such as an ‘art coffee house’ and classes for music or art students,” said Mary Jane Westerlund, a steering committee member. “The board intends to make information about the availability of space and rooms for events available to the public soon, following completion of preliminary work to prepare meeting rooms and facilities.”
Some plaster work, roof repairs and plumbing issues are second on the group’s agenda. Its first priority is raising money to pay for the building, its insurance, utilities and upkeep.
“We plan to apply for grants as soon as we can, too,” Pickle said.