Bishop Michael Pitts in front of the Eastwood Theatre in East Toledo where he is remodeling to accommodate Cornerstone.
It's not quite a case of deja vu. Revival is the more appropriate term.
The Maumee-based Cornerstone Church has returned to East Toledo and will preview its “new,” old location at the Eastwood Theater by hosting the annual WOW Jam as a street party at the Eastwood, 817 E. Broadway St., at 2 p.m. today, then having an open house Sunday at 5 p.m. with live music from country singer Johnny Rowlett and WOW Jam leaders Stephen and Linda Tavani (Linda was Peaches in the '70s and '80s duo Peaches & Herb). The Tavanis will also perform Saturday at WOW Jam.
WOW stands for Winning Our World, an organization the Tavanis started both to evangelize and to serve people in need or experiencing poor circumstances, and at the Tavanis' WOW Jams, besides family activities, prizes, entertainment, and evangelizing, people can receive a free lunch and free services such as haircuts and family photos.
Cornerstone at the Eastwood Theater is a revival because Cornerstone held services there from 1993 to 2004, its bishop, Michael Pitts, said. Moving back to the Eastwood a decade later is “too big of a project to do for sentimental reasons, for sure. But there is a sentimental part of it because there's so many great memories,” Bishop Pitts said. “I just felt like we've got to do something [in East Toledo for] people in Oregon, Northwood, all throughout this side of the river.”
William Busch, left, and Gary Cross, right, work on restoring the marquee.
Bishop Pitts had told staff members to look for vacant buildings which they might purchase and convert to a church. He said, “The guys came back and said, 'You're not going to believe it. The Eastwood Theater is up for sale.'” They bought the theater and had to do a lot of work on it—from fixing water damage and replacing air conditioners that had been stolen when the theater was vacant to, in essence, gutting the auditorium—the decoration from Cornerstone's previous tenancy had not held up—and installing new seats. About the only thing remaining for the renovation is completing the installation of LED panels on the marquee.
The Eastwood location “feels like home,” Bishop Pitts said. “Because we did so much work in the community before, we have a great name in the community, and the Eastwood Theater means so much to people who have generationally been in this area. Even as our guys are working, people are coming by and saying, 'I used to see movies there when I was a kid all those years ago.'”
The first time around for Cornerstone, “Some of the guys that are pastoring some of our other churches now got their legs up under them” at the Eastwood, Bishop Pitts, 49, said. On returning, “We have a whole 'nother generation of emerging leaders coming up now, and they have more energy than I do, they're younger than I am, they can get out there and knock it out.”
Bishop Pitts won't preach often at the Eastwood; Ryan Lachmiller of the Maumee ministry initially will coordinate as service leader, and others will be involved.
Services might not be exactly the same as at the Maumee location. “I think the church always changes and evolves from generation to generation,” Bishop Pitts said. “The wineskin changes but the wine doesn't. Sometimes our structure changes. The basic DNA of what Cornerstone is is always the same, which is kind of a forward chruch—I call it church with a little hot sauce on it—so that part of it never changes.
”But sometimes some of the music changes, some of the style changes, some of the administration of it changes, some of the delivery of it changes, some of the methodology changes.”
One change from Maumee is that the Eastwood will serve multiple purposes, Bishop Pitts said. It will be a church on Saturdays at 5 p.m., and will have religious education classrooms and office space for church meetings. But there will also be secular use. Cornerstone has partnered with Toledo Cinema Group, Bishop Pitts said, for the Eastwood to be a commercial theater showing family movies, and the group installed projection and sound equipment that the church will use.
“And then we're using it as a community center where we can partner with anybody that's doing anything good here, like health clinics, job fairs, training,” Bishop Pitts said.
For the church aspect, the tentative opening date is one week away, August 2 at 5 p.m.