July 5, 2008

Congregation Looks to Leave Theater, Settle into Vacated Catholic Church

By Jay Tokasz

A nondenominational Christian congregation that worships in an Elmwood Avenue movie theater is seeking permanent quarters and has proposed buying a vacated Catholic church in Black Rock.

The Chapel at Elmwood, an offshoot of an Amherst megachurch, is offering $275,000 to purchase the former St. Florian Catholic Church and accompanying buildings at 567 Hertel Ave.

Chapel at Elmwood Pastor Brek Cockrell could not be reached to comment, but he told the congregation about the offer during Sunday's service and also mentioned it this week in his blog, brekonelmwood.com.

Monsignor Albert W. Clody, pastor of All Saints Catholic Church, which is responsible for the St. Florian site, said the Diocese of Buffalo had received a letter of intent from the Chapel but has yet to respond.

"We also have another interested party," Clody said. "Nothing has been accepted."

Officials at the diocese were trying to contact the other party before moving forward, Clody said.

St. Florian closed last October in a merger with All Saints at Esser and Henrietta avenues.

Buffalo Common Council Member Joseph Golombek Jr., whose North District includes St. Florian, helped arrange a tour of the church for leaders from the Chapel at Elmwood after they had expressed an interest.

Clody said he did not know who the other interested party was because they were dealing directly with the diocese.

Officials with the diocese's buildings and properties department could not be reached Thursday to comment.

Golombek said he was informed that the other party was an individual seeking to create a nondenominational chapel and nonprofit human service agency.

The Chapel at Elmwood was started in 2007 by members from the Chapel at CrossPoint, a flourishing megachurch in Amherst that wanted to establish a presence in Buffalo.

The group developed the unconventional idea of renting the Regal Cinema space at 2001 Elmwood on Sunday mornings as an inexpensive way to get a congregation started quickly.

The St. Florian site includes three buildings and a garage.

Its sale would mark the fourth upper-West Side Catholic church sold in the past two years.

Plaza Group purchased St. John the Baptist Catholic Church, rectory and school at 58-60 Hertel Ave. for $160,000 in October 2006. Plaza Group had planned condominiums or luxury apartments at the site, but it remains empty and is back on the market.

Abundant Life in Christ Ministries bought the former St. Elizabeth Catholic Church, rectory, school and convent at 986 Grant St. for $200,000 in April.

And St. Francis Xavier Catholic Church on East Street is in the final stages of being sold to the Buffalo Religious Arts Center, which plans to use the church as museum space.

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Originally published by NEWS STAFF REPORTER.

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