On January 15, 1934
The Chapel was ready for its first Sunday morning service. It was not an elaborate church, yet the potpourri of furnishings made The Chapel warmly welcoming–especially because the congregation has scrimped and saved for the love gifts used to furnish the church. There were no padded pews, no fluorescent lights, no spacious fellowship hall. Natural light smiled through a back door illuminating open hymnals and the people who held them. A trap door on the back of the sanctuary floor led to the children’s Sunday School classes.
Let’s relive that first January service. It is a cold winter morning on Akron’s near west side as you enter The Chapel at Five Points. But, you find the cold is not really numbing, for the excitement of this first service is generating a great deal of warmth among the congregation of 50 worshippers. We see a dual message posted. Carl’s father, B.A. Burnham, will deliver, “The Contradictory Words of Jesus Christ,” while his son will speak on “The Devil’s Righteousness.” The pianist effortlessly runs his fingers over the keyboard while Pastor Carl leads the congregational singing. Between the sweet strains of “In the Garden,” “The Old Rugged Cross,” and “When the Roll Is Called Up Yonder,” Carl and Agnes blend their voices in a duet. From this very first service onward, people come forward for salvation. Lives and homes are transformed–and this is only the beginning.
–from Upon This Rock, 1934-1984: 50 Years and Building (1984)
80 Years of God’s faithfulness: We trace our earliest roots to the Furnace Street Mission in 1933. In 1934, the rubber industry was strong, the Akron community was growing, and some pioneers sensed the need for a church that would have a special attachment to the Bible, a call to emphasize Christ and his wonderful grace, and a terrific love for people.
Rev. Carl Burnham preached the first sermon at 7:30 at night on January 15, 1934 at The Chapel at Five Points. The topic was: “The Devil’s Righteousness,” and between 40 and 50 were in attendance. Carl and Agnes Burnham had prayed to transform a 20 x 50 foot storeroom into a church.
They would name it “The Chapel” to signify a small and humble place where the teaching was based solely on the basics of the Bible.
A trap door near the platform led to Sunday School. A pot-bellied stove kept them warm. Focus: invite unchurched loved ones to the tiny church.
Brown and Vine
In 1936, they began to raise money to purchase a lot on the corner of Brown and Vine, and work on the church building began with the basement structure built by volunteer labor. Until the building was completed, they met in the chilly basement and when it rained they scattered buckets and propped their feet up on the pews to keep dry. The building was completed in 1947, 450 members strong. Doctrinally: non-denominational, evangelistic, missionary and Bible loving.
As growth continued, members found the need to yet again “enlarge their tent.” They unanimously voted to purchase the lot on Fir Hill. On Palm Sunday 1954, the cornerstone was laid. On March 27, 1955, 1,000 men, women and children walked from Brown and Vine to The Chapel’s new home on Fir Hill.
From the beginning it was about a spirit of unity and oneness. Sadly, Carl Burnham died in 1962 following heart surgery which God then used as son David took the helm.
By 1969, membership had grown to 3,200 members. Groundbreaking took place in 1971 for a new sanctuary that would connect to the Fir Hill buildings, dubbing the old sanctuary as Memorial Chapel. The building was dedicated in 1973, and the congregation numbered around 5,000. Pastor David and Sue Burnham upheld the same biblical principles foundational since the beginning.
These years witnessed: Camp Carl, outreach to singles, seniors, and young children. An emphasis on missions exploded during this time. Support for missionaries, seminary students, Kent State and University of Akron campus ministries, local missions such as Shelter Care, Summit County Jail experienced great growth. Christmas and Easter concerts emerged as the music ministry reached a crescendo. Membership 6,700 strong.
A tremendous outreach during this time was Neighborhood Bible Studies. Dave and Sue wrote the first study materials and trained the leaders. The initial invitation was via telephone to every Chapel member. Then people began inviting friends and neighbors. At its peak, there were more than 100 home Bible studies cranking out the Word of God.
In 1982, Pastor Dave Burnham made a jarring announcement—his candidacy for a church in Florida. In the months that followed, a search for a new pastor took place. Pastor Knute Larson stepped in at that time with his wife Jeanine and two daughters.
Under Knute’s leadership, The Chapel would continue to build upon the solid rock of Christ. From 1983–2000, ministry highlights: continued growth of Adult Bible Fellowships (ABFs), equipping families to minister, increased expansion into the Akron community through local ministries, radio and TV spots and media visibility, programs for kids, teens, singles, international and cross-cultural ministries.
The year 2000 brought about yet another common “problem” for The Chapel: membership outgrowing the church building. With attendance hovering at around 8,000 and multiple services maxed out, “20/20: The Next Chapter” was launched. This was the concept of becoming One Church, Two Locations.
In June of 2003, the Green Campus opened its doors. Two campuses offering worship times, campus groups, programs, Bible studies, support groups now expanded. It was about what The Chapel has always been about: reaching people for Christ.
With the announcement of Knute’s pending retirement, a search began far and wide for the next senior pastor. The “far and wide” part really wasn’t necessary as God’s choice for the next shepherd of The Chapel was found in a former associate pastor, Paul Sartarelli. And so in 2006, Paul and Susie came on in a unique transitional phase, with Knute officially passing the baton to Paul in June of 2009.
In 2010, the congregation voted to enfold Valleyview Chapel as a third campus of The Chapel. We became “One Church, Three Locations,” with the addition of our brothers and sisters at our new Wadsworth Campus.
In 2012, Paul announced that God was calling he and Susie away from The Chapel, which began the search for the leader God would bring to the Chapel next.
After more than 17 years as the planter and pastor of Crossroads church in Mansfield, OH, pastor Tim felt God pulling him to the Chapel. During an appropriately long search, both The Chapel and Pastor Tim sought God’s direction and blessing extensively to be sure that this was the right move for everyone.
It was a very exciting moment in mid-2014, when both The Chapel and Pastor Tim realized, it was a perfect fit and both couldn’t wait to get started. Pastor Tim and his family (wife Michelle, daughters McKenna and Isabelle and son Jack) all moved to Akron to become Senior Pastor of The Chapel. Tim brings exciting vision, leadership and new culture to the Chapel and has already begun to bring great new levels of joy, and energy The Chapel family. He is excited to be here for many years and looks forward to seeing all that God has planned for The Chapel.
The Chapel, Green Campus
Pastor Mike Castelli serves as the Lead Pastor of our Green Campus where he has the joy of preaching and leading a great staff who love God’s people and are passionate about building His Kingdom. He joined the staff in 2000 after working for 12 years at the NASA Glenn Research Center as a Senior Research Engineer. Family time, reading and relaxing (when possible!) are all favorites. He and his wife, Terri have two adult children and reside in Green.
In 2014-15 we honored our 80-year heritage with outstretched arms to embrace tomorrow. On Christ the solid rock we continue to stand, and we maintain our core values of Believing, Belonging, Becoming, and Building.
And thinking back to the origin of the name, we guess you can’t really say we’re small, but may we always show humility and may the Word of God be held highest in our purpose in knowing Him and making Him known.