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Grace Church Creates Nature Sanctuary for Community

The beginnings of Sanctuary Park sit across from Grace United Methodist Church on the corner of State Roads 3 and 26. Volunteers plan to landscape the area and add amenities such as benches for locals and tourists to relax.  Photo submitted by Joan Shrader

The beginnings of Sanctuary Park sit across from Grace United Methodist Church on the corner of State Roads 3 and 26. Volunteers plan to landscape the area and add amenities such as benches for locals and tourists to relax. Photo submitted by Joan Shrader

By Joan Shrader

Have you ever thought about the word ‘sanctuary’? We often hear it used in the phrase ‘sanctuary city’ when listening to the news. What is the purpose of sanctuary? The dictionary definition of sanctuary is “a place of refuge or safety”, or “a nature reserve”.  

Several months ago, people in Hartford City were wondering what, if anything,  was going to replace the old gas station that stood at the corner of Highways 3 and 26. Rumors abounded.  Some believed the preschool playground was going to be placed there! (Very unsafe.) Others thought a new gas station was going to be built there! (Don’t we have enough of those on that corner?) All kinds of rumors floated around town. As it turned out, the rumors were untrue.

WHAT? UNTRUE RUMORS?

A new playground for the Helen Lieber Early Learning Academy sits beside the church. The academy offers full-day preschool for kids with working parents.  Photo submitted by Joan Shrader

A new playground for the Helen Lieber Early Learning Academy sits beside the church. The academy offers full-day preschool for kids with working parents. Photo submitted by Joan Shrader

Here’s the real story:

As a congregation, folks at Grace United Methodist Church were looking to the needs of our community. The preschool playground was relocated to a safer and more convenient area of the church campus. It was very obvious that a full-day preschool was needed for children of working parents.  Accreditation was sought, facilities were upgraded and approved for a voucher system, hours were extended, and what had always been known as the Helen Lieber Preschool became the Helen Lieber Early Learning Academy, a sanctuary for working families and a big win for our community!

The corner where the gas station stood is now a green space called ‘Sanctuary Park’.  Before the current Grace Church was built sometime in the 1920’s, the original building stood right on the corner.

“I was surprised to learn that the old service station was sitting in the same place as the previous location of Grace, and when I saw a photo of that venerable old building, I realized the sanctuary pretty much covered the entire lot,” Pastor Ron Branson explained. “As we began talking about removing the building, I often referenced it as the site of our former sanctuary . . . once it was gone, it just seemed natural to call it Santuary Park.”

The church is a sanctuary for those who need a refuge from our unforgiving world; thus the name ‘Sanctuary Park’ takes on a new layer of meaning. At this time, grass has been planted. Plans for future improvement of this space include landscaping and perhaps some benches where people who need some quiet in their lives can enjoy a bit of nature sanctuary. It is hoped that it will become a welcoming corner for those who are passing through or just visiting. Another win for our community!

Chris Jennerjahn, chair of the finance committee, emphasized the importance of this project.

“Grace purchased the old gas station property a few year back and recognized that its location borders the busiest intersection in the county,” Jennerjahn said. “We recognized that, just like everyone else in the community, we have a responsibility to help improve our community. Eliminating an eyesore by removing the older gas station at such an important intersection was a proper way to contribute and a good first step. We are hopeful we will be able to raise additional funds to further improve the appearance of this critical location."

Hope House attendees gather in the church. Hope House meets every Sunday for a meal and worship.  Photo submitted by Joan Shrader

Hope House attendees gather in the church. Hope House meets every Sunday for a meal and worship. Photo submitted by Joan Shrader

Some positive things have been happening in the sanctuary of Grace Church as well. The chancel has been remodeled in order to be more accessible to modern church and other services. A new grand piano has been purchased, making the space useful for many types of musical programs. Hope House is a service that is held every Sunday evening for those in addiction recovery. Prior to each service, a meal is served. The folks who attend this service are very valuable to our community with their renewed enthusiasm for life. We want to offer them a sanctuary with a purpose.  

Sanctuary is important to all of us. We all need to feel safe and to rest in some quiet time amidst the noise and chaos of the world.

Grace is working to give that peace to the community.