New Life At Calvary Church: A symbol of integration, social justice, and community giving

Last Thursday, Aug. 24, a series of violent thunderstorms, wind,  and several tornados ripped through the Great Cleveland area—including an EF-1 tornado that ripped through parts of the Fairfax neighborhood, taking a large section of roof off the 143-year-old New Life At Calvary Church on East 79th Street and Euclid Avenue.

No one was hurt, but all meetings and activities have been canceled.

“Our church has faced major loss and we praise God that no one was hurt,” Calvary pastor Kellie Sullivan said in a statement. “Please pray for our church as we start to rebuild.”

Since the 1890s, the historic church has been a house of worship, service, and a source of community unity in the neighborhood.

Calvary Presbyterian Church began in 1880 as a Sunday school when an abandoned wood chapel was moved to Euclid Avenue and East 79th Street, under the guidance of pastor Hiram Collins Haydn of the Old Stone Church in Public Square.

A stone Gothic chapel was added to the original chapel and for 12 years Calvary was ministered by clergy from Old Stone before being incorporated at Calvary Presbyterian Church in 1882.

Calvary Presbyterian ChurchCalvary Presbyterian ChurchIn the late 1880s the growing congregation hired versatile architect Charles Schweinfurth to design a larger church. Schweinfurth was known for designing more than a dozen houses along Millionaire’s Row on Euclid Avenue, as well as Trinity Episcopal Cathedral on East 18th Street and Euclid Avenue, among other designs.

Schweinfurt designed Calvary with an arched ceiling, and many of the 36 stained-glass windows were made by artists John La Farge and Louis Comfort Tiffany, and frescoes were created by Charles Schweinfurth’s brother, Julius Schweinfurth.

Construction began on the Romanesque stone church in 1888 and was completed in 1890. In May 1891 the church was incorporated as Calvary Presbyterian Church. By 1900 the congregation had doubled in size and a gymnasium was added to the structure—the first church in Cleveland to add a gym.

While the Calgary congregation initially was entirely made up of the city’s wealthy and elite white population, the church took a stance against segregation early on and welcomed everyone to the neighborhood church.

In the 1950s, as most of the white population began moving east and the Black population moved into Fairfax, Calgary quietly became a mixed-race congregation—becoming one of the first in Cleveland to have integrated services—and continued its standing mission of spirituality, neighborhood improvement, and community involvement.

Also in the 1950s, the church acquired two lots on East 79th Street to create a parking lot and playground. Four World War II memorial trees were also planted on the new lots.

New Life At Calvary is faced with repairing the massive damage and replacing the missing roof caused by last week’s tornado and stormsNew Life At Calvary is faced with repairing the massive damage and replacing the missing roof caused by last week’s tornado and stormsThe church became known for its youth programs, free hot meals, taking care of the needy, and its continued stance on social justice for everyone. The congregation opened a Justice Line for residents to anonymously report crimes in the neighborhood.

In 2011 Calvary Presbyterian and Glenville New Life Presbyterian Churches entered a two-year partnership before merging in June 2013 into one congregation, New Life At Calvary.

Today’s New Life At Calvary was working on restorations on its historic building, including restoring the stained-glass windows, exterior masonry, the north tower, and the gym roof. But now it is faced with repairing the massive damage and replacing the missing roof caused by last week’s tornado and storms.

The church that has helped its community for more than a century is now requesting donations from its community for help in these repairs.

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Karin Connelly Rice
Karin Connelly Rice

About the Author: Karin Connelly Rice

Karin Connelly Rice enjoys telling people's stories, whether it's a promising startup or a life's passion. Over the past 20 years she has reported on the local business community for publications such as Inside Business and Cleveland Magazine. She was editor of the Rocky River/Lakewood edition of In the Neighborhood and was a reporter and photographer for the Amherst News-Times. At Fresh Water she enjoys telling the stories of Clevelanders who are shaping and embracing the business and research climate in Cleveland.