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A celebration 122 years in the making

A Georgia church returns to its roots, a sanctuary built by the congregation in 1899

by Scott O’Neill | Presbyterian News Service

Members and friends of Norcross Presbyterian Church in Norcross, Georgia, celebrated the rededication of its new old church on Sunday. (Photo courtesy of Norcross Presbyterian Church)

LOUISVILLE — Norcross Presbyterian Church in Norcross, Georgia, held a dedication ceremony during Sunday worship to mark the return to its original house of worship — built by its congregation more than 120 years ago in 1899.

The congregation last worshiped there in 1972 before moving into a bigger, more modern building in 1973. Congregational downsizing and other factors made staying in the newer facility unsustainable, however, so NPC sold that building and had been without a permanent home for the past year until Sunday’s official ceremony.

The COVID-19 crisis mitigated the need for a physical location to some extent, but that didn’t mean his small congregation didn’t feel the effect of being disconnected, according to NPC’s pastor, the Rev. Dr. Matthew Fry.

“Our being without a building for a long time lined up with worshiping safely in the conditions we were going through,” said Fry. “Certainly, it had some different challenges than if we would have had a building, but it’s hard to say because we’ve never moved during a global pandemic before. I think we all felt like we were in exile, not just our church family.”

The exterior of Norcross Presbyterian Church as it appears today. (Photo courtesy of Norcross Presbyterian Church)

 

No longer a large congregation, the now approximately 60-member church located about 20 miles northeast of Atlanta saw an opportunity to move back to a thriving, inviting downtown area. Their “new” old building was stripped down to the studs and required extensive renovations, but Fry and the rest of the church staff saw the possibilities and fell back in love with the old church and the chance for new beginnings.

“There is much to be excited about, but the biggest one is being in a location that is alive with people on a regular basis. Opportunities to interact with people we haven’t met yet, get to know new friends and learn from people,” said Fry. “Everyone is very excited about the new facility; we can’t wait to be good neighbors in a new setting.”

The dedication ceremony included dignitaries from the Presbytery of Greater Atlanta; the mayor of Norcross, Craig L. Newton; and remarks by special guest the Rev. Dr. Lewis Fowler, Jr., who was NPC’s pastor from 1966-1974 and thus the last pastor to preach in the original church. Fowler shared memories of his time at Norcross and noted the beauty of the renovated sanctuary, likening the old sanctuary to Kitty Hawk, North Carolina, the birthplace of flight, while the new version is more akin to Cape Canaveral.

Norcross Presbyterian Church was dedicated in December 1899. (Photo courtesy of Norcross Presbyterian Church)

NPC’s original structure was dedicated in December 1899. The deed for the lot it stands on was purchased the year prior for $150 and was incorporated under the name “First Presbyterian Church of Norcross.” One of the signature features of the sanctuary was its 10 stained glass windows, some of which remain and commemorate the church’s founder, its first pastor and a prominent early member. A new church organ was presented in 1899 and was used until 1978.

“Even though the building is old, and a part of our history, to be away from it for 48 years and to move back is still to move into a very different location and situation than we have grown used to,” Fry said. “I think we have the chance to build a new kind of church, to be faithful in new ways, to grow with new people and find some different ways to live into grace and love.”

Fry’s overriding message to Norcross residents who may have forgotten about NPC is one of inclusion. The church’s tag line is “come as you are, you won’t be a stranger long.”

Three of the stained glass windows from the original sanctuary honor founding church leaders. (Photo courtesy of Norcross Presbyterian Church)

“I’d love people to know that a welcoming, inclusive community has just moved back in town into a beautifully renovated historical building that simultaneously feels old and new,” said Fry. “All are welcome here, and we mean as you are, not as you think we want you to be. No matter what you believe or don’t believe, no matter what you wear to church, no matter your past or your present, all are welcome.”

You can watch a replay of the dedication ceremony livestream here. Read a newspaper piece about the church’s return home here.


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