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Published: Saturday, 5/5/2007

Unity UM to keep urban mission after move to suburbs

BLADE RELIGION EDITOR
The Rev. Larry Keeler is pastor of Unity United Methodist Church. The Rev. Larry Keeler is pastor of Unity United Methodist Church.
SIMMONS / BLADE Enlarge

Unity United Methodist Church is moving from its urban environment on Oakdale Avenue in East Toledo to a 9.2-acre site in Northwood. But that doesn't mean the church is going suburban, according to its pastor, the Rev. Larry Keeler.

"We're very much an urban congregation and a lot of our ministries are aimed at the urban area," Mr. Keeler said.

Unity runs a food pantry that serves 250 families a month and assists with the Helping Hands of St. Louis soup kitchen, he said. It also is the home church for Mountain Mentors, an outreach program helping juvenile delinquents.

Unity, which has an average attendance of 125 at its Sunday services, plans to break ground at 4 p.m. tomorrow on its $1.5 million facility at 1910 East Broadway. It will be the first United Methodist Church in Northwood since Hayes United Methodist closed several years ago, Mr. Keeler said.

Unity was formed in 2002 after the two small Methodist congregations, Oakdale and Euclid churches, voted to merge in 2001. Later, Bethany United Methodist, the oldest church in eastern Lucas County, and Grace United Methodist in Walbridge also merged with Unity.

"Mergers are not easy. Mergers are very difficult," Mr. Keeler said. "That's why it's taken so long."

The church had planned to build shortly after the first merger of 2001, he said.

The new building will be 12,300 square feet, with a sanctuary that seats about 250. It will have a full commercial kitchen, classrooms, offices, a state-of-the-art nursery, and a fellowship hall, the pastor said.

"We're still fairly small for doing all this," Mr. Keeler said. "It's been a struggle. We had our share of headaches along the way."

He said Unity's congregation is taking a step of faith by committing to such an expensive building project.

"It's seriously very risky. It's a lot of money for a small church, especially," Mr. Keeler said.

To save money, the original design was scaled back from 14,000 square feet to 12,300, trimming the educational wing, although the facility can be expanded at a later date, Mr. Keeler said.

The building was designed by David Koppelman of Perrysburg-based KSA Architects and Planners with construction by Jans Construction Inc.

Mr. Keeler, 61, is a former city editor and assistant managing editor of The Blade who left the news business in 1995 to become a full-time pastor.

He graduated from Garrett Evangelical Theological Seminary in Evanston, Ill., doing much of his studies at its branch campus in Detroit. He was ordained a deacon in the United Methodist Church in 1999 and an elder in 2001.

Tomorrow's groundbreaking ceremony will include music and comments from local government and church officials.

"It will be kind of like a carnival. We're trying to celebrate a little," Mr. Keeler said.

- David Yonke



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