When Filer Mennonite Church decided to replace its pews with chairs last year, that didn’t mean the Idaho congregation got rid of the white oak benches. The next chapter was revealed when the church bought a house next to the property that would work well as a parsonage.
The fixer-upper needed some improvements. Such as kitchen cabinets.
White oak kitchen cabinets.
Pastor Ron Hershey said after the 25 or so pews were moved out of the sanctuary, a few found their way into church members’ homes, and one was donated to a historical society. The rest were disassembled and stored at the wood shop of church member Gary Eichelberger, who purchased them without a particular project in mind.
That project appeared after the church decided at an annual meeting a few days after the real estate listing appeared to buy the house.
“As soon as we got the house, it just instantly hit us — that was what the pews were meant to do,” Hershey said. “It was the perfect way to repurpose and give life and history to the home and pews.”
No one is quite sure how old the pews were. They had been in Filer Mennonite at least 30 years, after being purchased from another church. The dense wood was coated in a heavy seal, which required transporting the wood three hours to Hershey’s brother, who could mill it down with a special planer that would not gum up or chip the wood.
Once the wood was hauled back to Filer, Eichelberger and other church members worked with the Hershey family to craft and install the cabinets.
“When I look at these cabinets, I see Filer Mennonite and the heart and soul of the congregation,” Hershey said. “You’d have to drive a long way to find cabinets put together better than these are. And as lumber [prices] spiked last year, to buy this much pure oak lumber, there’s got to be $20,000 in lumber here.”
Other portions of the former pews became window trim. With an addition and second-floor work planned for the parsonage, the remaining 20% of wood could easily find its next home in the pastor’s house.
The project has been especially meaningful to Hershey and his family because of his connections to the congregation. It’s the place his great-grandfather was ordained.
It also has meaning for the church’s long-term health.
“A lot of these little churches, if we don’t have parsonages, it gets harder and harder to fill ministry roles with how rent goes up and up,” Hershey said. “In the future, when in need of a young pastor who needs to get their footing, having a parsonage is a huge help for us.”
The project has also paid dividends in the present. There is only a tiny hall in the basement, and movable chairs have made it much easier to host events such as an annual Ten Thousand Villages fair-trade products sale.
And though they’ll never make good cabinets, Hershey said the padded seats are appreciated for other reasons.
“Nobody’s told me they miss sitting on those hard benches,” he said.