Hundreds gathered Sunday at the former Harlan Elementary School – now the Christian Community Center – for food, fun and worship and to celebrate the new home and name of The Ekklesia, formerly Sunrise Chapel.
In January, the church bought the former school and grounds for $270,000 from East Allen County Schools.
The day’s festivities started with a morning service, where the name of the church was formally changed to The Ekklesia – Greek for congregation or church – followed by a hog roast and an afternoon dedication service for the new Christian Community Center.
Lael Barkman, senior pastor of The Ekklesia of Harlan, outlined plans to turn the building into a thriving center of economic development.
Plans include a conference center, coffee shop, fitness center, athletic events, day care facility and various community businesses.
Near us, Leo is growing, Grabill is growing – why not us? Barkman asked. He cautioned that the church alone cannot support the community center.
We must generate some revenue or we will have a hard time with this size of a facility, he said.
The board of directors plans to make the kitchen, cafeteria and gymnasium available for rent to accommodate large gatherings such as receptions, graduations and other events, Barkman said.
They also hope the center becomes the site of a small satellite office for the Allen County Sheriff’s Department, he said.
One area has been turned into a prayer room that Barkman plans to make available 24/7, year-round in the near future. Much of the upper level has already been converted into classrooms for Sunday and Wednesday church classes, he said.
The center hosted a leadership conference in March that attracted 400 people, and more are in the works, he said.
There’s also a Christian school south of Harlan that is interested in leasing space at the center, Barkman said.
Barkman has lived in Harlan 10 years and has coached football since 1993, including at schools in Ohio, at Woodlan High School and currently at the Tri State King’s Crusaders in Leo – a league for home-schoolers.
East Allen closed Harlan Elementary at the end of the school year in 2011, and the building sat empty for two years per Indiana law. According to state law, public school districts are required to list vacant school buildings and make them available to charter schools for lease or purchase for two years. Barkman said the school board made the right decision.
I know having to close and sell the school was a difficult decision, he said. But we promise to make you thankful you made the decision that you did.