Grace Lutheran Renovations

Rev. Stephen Verkouw, stands outside the old elevator at Grace Lutheran Church in Lancaster.

The legendary Lancaster architect C. Emlen Urban designed the historic Grace Lutheran Church in the 19th-century neo-Gothic Revival style.

The beautiful brownstone church at 517 N. Queen St. was built in 1906-08, replacing a previous Grace church, built in 1874, the year the church was founded.

But like all historic buildings, it has its problems, like a 1960s-era elevator that the Rev. Stephen Verkouw describes as “about the size of a phone booth.”

“It can accommodate just one wheelchair, with the person pushing it tucked between the handles,” Verkouw said.

On March 24, the church held a groundbreaking ceremony for a $1.9 million construction project for an elevator tower and an education center on the lower level.

'Act of hope and faith'

“It’s an act of hope and faith that we will still have a mission many years from now,” said Verkouw, Grace’s pastor for about 24 years.

The last construction project at the church was in 2013, when the bell tower was repaired. In 2006, glass doors replaced heavy wooden ones into the narthex, making the church more open and welcoming.

The congregation has about 550 members, with about 185 worshippers attending on an average Sunday, down from about 285 in 1995.

Vibrant ministries

“We’re a smaller but still vital worshipping congregation with fantastic music and vibrant social and urban ministries,” Verkouw said.


Rendering shows the location of the planned elevator tower at Grace Lutheran Church, Lancaster.

The ministries include Luther Care for Kids, a weekly meal for the homeless, addiction recovery groups and a housing ministry, with 12 rental units in six properties around the block.

The congregation began a three-year fundraising campaign for the latest project in 2017 and has raised $560,000 so far, with another $200,000 in pledges.

“We’re on track to raise about $800,000 in this first campaign,” Verkouw said.

The elevator tower will be constructed on the side of the church along the driveway off Queen Street, between the church and the church office building. It will be housed in a glass enclosure and open into the narthex.

Existing stained-glass windows will be moved above the elevator, with elevator doors on two sides for access to the new education center, the street level and the balcony.

The education center will feature an auditorium with 21st-century technology for teaching and meetings. Three small classrooms now used for storage will be expanded into five by removing a hallway, and a small kitchen and storage room will be added.

Verkouw credits Rosalyn Ward, capital campaign chair; Jan Mandros, renovation team chair; Tom Anderson, council president; and Drew Scheffey and Donald Main, past presidents, for bringing the project to fruition.

“Their leadership and teams did the planning and financing and worked out the kinks,” Verkouw said. “They had the difficult conversations about what can we do and what can we leave out.

“Main, of Marotta/Main Architects, helped us see the possibilities and prioritize aspects of the project that would be most important and beneficial.”

In a phone call, Main said the current handicapped access on James Street enters the sanctuary near the pulpit, making latecomers disruptive.

“This brings it back to the main entrance, the same way as everybody enters, which is great,” Main said.

Because it would be a conflict of interest for Main to serve as the architect for the project, his partner, Maryann Marotta, served as principal architect, with Wesley Enterline as project architect. The firm of Caldwell, Heckles and Egan Construction serves as contractor. Construction is expected to be completed by December.

Verkouw said he sees the purpose of the project as “trying to balance our ministry for all people, bringing people who are disabled or with difficulties into all areas of the building.

“It creates a place where children and families can be together learning stories of the Bible, teachings of faith and how they intersect with all stages of our lives.”