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This historic church is turning its former school into a coffee house, campus ministry

By Damon Maloney

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    CLEVELAND, Ohio (WEWS) — If you travel around Cleveland, there’s a fair share of century-old buildings. Many sit vacant. Others get torn down. But some are revived.

Zion Lutheran Church on Prospect Avenue in the city’s Central neighborhood is working on its vision to turn its old school building, which has been closed for decades, into a coffee shop and campus ministry for local college students.

Tuesday, Pastor Mike Wallace, second vice president of the Ohio District of the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod, gave me a tour of the four-story building.

“We have no desire to go and change and make this modern,” Wallace said.

Creaky floors inside the former Zion School and Chapel are staying. They’ve been refurbished, and other transformations are taking place throughout the building, which is on the National Registry of Historic Places.

“Almost all of the windows on this first floor have been replaced,” Wallace said.

Wallace is part of a team building a campus ministry at the former school. Church leaders said they want to reach college students at Cleveland State University, Case Western Reserve University and other institutions in the city.

“College is an interesting time. You’re learning things. You’re on your own for the first time. And we’d like to be there to guide them and to help them through that time and also optimize their spiritual life as well,” Wallace said.

The church wants to help people grow their faith and perhaps increase its membership. But, Wallace said, all will be welcomed, both believers and non-believers.

“This building has all kinds of potential and all kinds of space,” Wallace said.

So far, more than $100,000 has been raised. The money has put a new roof on the building, added a parking lot and helped volunteers chip away at various projects.

The focus is on creating a playroom, study room and coffee house on the first floor.

“There is something about just being face-to-face and talking with one another and having a shared space,” Wallace said.

Later plans call for renovations to the other floors, including the auditorium, which can be used for half-court basketball and other activities.

“You can play dodgeball. You have a stage there that you can do karaoke night, you can do talent shows,” Wallace said. “You can actually do small plays up there if you wanted to.”

Another phase of the plan includes creating a Lutheran fraternity with a women’s dormitory on the top floor and a men’s dormitory in the basement.

“Just like a fraternity does, you get to know those people very well and they become your brothers and sisters hopefully in Christ and then they can support each other in their in their walk,” Wallace said.

Cleveland State University graduate student Yufei Guo thinks students would use the new space.

“I think it is (a) wonderful thing to make use of the old buildings especially with a long history,” Guo said. “And also, it can offer more spaces for students around and offer more diversity for students to take part in activities.”

Kiersten Ward is attending summer classes at Cleveland State University. She said students can use more places outside of campus to visit, especially when the weather gets cold.

Ward said she’s not a Christian but sees value in what Zion Lutheran Church is doing.

“I do think that having that area is still nice for students who do worship and need to pray, but I think also just having other people opening a peaceful space… because I’ve been to churches, and I think they are peaceful spaces is also really good and easy to utilize.

Wallace said the goal is to have the campus ministry and coffee house open by fall.

“I would just love to see this place take off again,” Wallace said.

Zion Lutheran Church is always looking for work volunteers and continues to fundraise. For more information, contact Zion Congregation President Art Schwandt at 440-787-7639 or at

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