Barn church takes shape
By Fran Odyniec
In 2008, the Darby Grace Brethren congregation came to the Plain City area, and, as Pastor Shawn Kaeser says, “Started from scratch.”
The fledgling congregation began holding worship services on the first floor of the house that Mark Troyer owns across from the Cheese House at 9899 U.S. Route 42 South at the intersection of U.S. Route 42 and Converse-Huff Road.
“They were looking for space,” said Troyer, who, as it is turning out, was destined to help create a milestone for the congregation.
Behind the house is a barn that had begun to capture the attention and imagination of the congregation.
“They started talking about the barn about a year-and-a-half ago,” Troyer continued. “About last summer, it was time.”
In the meantime, Darby Grace Brethren moved its services last year to Shekinah Christian School over on Lafayette-Plain City Road.
Shawn Kaeser, pastor at Darby Grace, recalled that Troyer had said, “I feel I should fix the barn up for you guys.”
“He felt that the property ought to be used in a mighty way for God,” continued Kaeser.
Troyer, a noted remodeling contractor in the region, answered the call and began work last January on the project that would turn the barn into a church.
Kaeser and Darby Grace agreed to a five-year lease.
“His craftsmanship is unbelievable,” marveled Kaeser. “To worship in a barn is very unique, and an old barn is getting a new lease (on life).”
As best as Troyer can estimate, the barn was erected back about 1880 to house cattle.
It stands over an area of approximately 3,800 square feet, reaches a height of 28 feet at its peak and 16 feet at its side beams that form the eaves.
Those beams are hand-hewn and have been secured by wooden dowels that were used in the mortise and tenon framing.
“Those long beams are chestnut,” Troyer said pointing toward the peak. “The shorter ones are oak.”
The combination of chestnut and oak wood and mortise and tenon framing provide a great deal of strength for structure.
“Chestnut trees are strong and tall and grow 100 to 120 feet straight and tall,” he gave as the reason why so much of the wood was used in barn construction. “You can get one beam from a tree.”
“The connection is so strong,” Troyer said of mortise and tenon framing, “that it holds up against wind and weather.”
There is evidence to be found around Madison County of the advantages of mortise and tenon framing. “You see those big old barns that lean but are not going to fall,” he said. “They were built out of chestnut and without a nail but with dowels.”
Surveying the extent of the remodeling, Troyer commented, “This is taking all my years of experience to do it well. It’s not easy, but I love it. It brings out my creativity.”
It also added the element of challenge for Troyer.
“How do you do something like this, keep the authentic look without blowing the budget?” he offered.
He turned to Dave Beachy, who according to Troyer is one of the foremost authorities on local history, for some historical perspective on the barn. Roger Beachy, of RB Carpentry and Dave’s nephew, helped with the framing.
Standing in the middle of the barn which will become the sanctuary, Troyer pointed to areas that will be the nursery, the cloak room, restrooms, a kitchen, and an office.
However, he allowed that in the sanctuary “there will be a few posts. People will have to do some leaning.”
“We are leaving the wood pieces exposed,” he continued. “We power washed the beams twice and applied a coat of clear coat laquer with a dull rub to protect them from dust and moisture.”
Toward the beginning of last fall, Troyer remembered that Howard Yoder, of the Plain City area, had torn down a barn a few years ago, and that he still had a quantity of old exterior barn siding on hand. That siding will become the wainscoting that will go around the interior walls of the church and trim for the doors and windows.
“We want to use as many old products as we can,” he said.
While there will be track lighting in the ceiling, something old will be added to help move air in the sanctuary.
“Four big fans will be put under wagon wheels that date back to the 1800s,” said Troyer, “to add another unique touch.”
The fans and wheels will be suspended from the main cross-beams over the sanctuary.
New casement insulating glass windows will be installed for that old, double-hung antique look.
To make the barn as energy efficient as possible, R-38 insulation is being installed in the ceiling, while the walls will get R-19 insulation.
“The Columbus code for a house ceiling is R-30,” said Troyer by comparison. “We’re better than that. We’ll make this barn as tight as we can so utilities don’t run up.”
On the exterior of the building, Troyer is using board and batten siding at the first floor level on the west and south sides of the barn. He indicated that the upper half on the west and south will get the siding while the lower half will be stone. The siding also contains a mixture of cement which will help prevent splitting and rot.
“The west and south sides of the barn are the approaches,” said Troyer, referring to a rural version of “curb appeal” in explaining why those two sides will include stone. “And stone is more costly.”
The other sides of the building will be covered with red metal barn siding. New metal roofing is in place to minimize the risk of leaks.
Troyer, who has been a remodeling contractor for 25 years, reflected on what he sees in older buildings.
“The older I get, the more value I see in older structures,” he said respectfully. “This church will be unique. Shawn and Traci (Kaeser’s wife of 16 years and church administrative assistant) attract people. This building will too.”
“I’m perfectly fine being known as the barn church,” said Kaeser. “Jesus was born in a stable and the shepherds came to worship there. We can too.”
Target date for Darby Grace Brethren to hold its first service in the new church will be sometime this spring or early summer. Until then, the congregation will continue to meet at the Shekinah Christian School every Sunday at 10 a.m.