By Fred Koenig
The historic Paul H. Linn Memorial United Methodist Church at Central Methodist University, one of CMU’s and the region’s most iconic and beloved structures, is about to get some well-deserved attention.
The aim is to both modernize the steel-and-limestone structure to improve its utility for both CMU and the congregation. Work will commence in mid-May, with completion anticipated by late August.
Driven in part by the United Methodist Church’s Healthy Church Initiative, pioneered by the Missouri UMC Conference, CMU officials and Linn UMC congregation representatives have been discussing the project for over a year.
Many needs and wishes were identified by both groups, who then came together to chart a mutually beneficial strategy. A similar project at the First United Methodist Church in Jefferson City was used as a model.
“Much thought and consideration have gone into the planning of this renovation,” CMU President Roger Drake said. “Linn is truly sacred space, in the most literal interpretation of the word sacred.
“While it is important to meet the needs of the Conference, the congregation, CMU performing arts, and CMU Campus Ministry, all proposed changes had to be tempered with the preservation of the historic beauty of the space,” Drake said. “I think we have done that.”
CMU owns and maintains the structure, with the Linn congregation paying a usage fee. The University uses Linn for events such as music activities, special programs, speakers, and spring Baccalaureate.
The building is in need of work, noted CMU Vice President for Administration and Finance Julee Sherman. The university has a growing need for performance space and greater flexibility, she added. This project addresses both scenarios.
“Our hope was that the project would meet everyone’s needs, whether it’s for worship services or weddings, band concerts or chapel,” Sherman noted. The massive wooden trusses, ornate stained glass windows, the Wicks pipe organ installed in 1931, and much more will be retained.
The sanctuary will maintain most of its “feel” and classic look, but several changes will enable greater use by all entities. The university is incurring all costs, Sherman said, noting the CMU Board of Trustees has approved funds for the project.
Wooden pews on the main level will be replaced by individual seats, allowing for adjustments to seating capacity based on need. The choir loft will be removed from the Chancel Area and that space opened up. The pews will be retained in the balcony and only cosmetic improvements made to that area of the church.
Carpet down the center aisle will be replaced, the wooden floor refinished and flooring tiles replaced, lighting/sound/media will be improved, handicapped accessibility will be improved, glass doors will be installed in the interior foyer to brighten up the area, and the dark ceiling panels will be repainted in a lighter shade. A restroom will be added on the west side of the main floor.
At this time, the project does not affect the Assembly Hall beneath the sanctuary, nor the adjacent Parish House and Swinney Conservatory. During construction, Sunday worship services will be conducted in the Kountz Recital Hall of the Conservatory.
The church replaced the former Centenary, which served both college and the community from 1884 until it was demolished in 1928. The opening of the “new” church was delayed by the economic crash of 1929 and subsequent onset of the Great Depression; it was finally completed in 1931.
The church was dedicated in 1946 to the memory of Dr. Paul H. Linn, an 1894 graduate of Central who became president of his alma mater in 1913. He led the college through World War I and its resultant drop in enrollment; he guided it through its merger with the former Howard-Payne College in 1922; and he is credited with increasing enrollment and building up the Central faculty, among other accomplishments.