GOSHEN – A historic Methodist Episcopal church in Goshen is getting a new life thanks to a man who operates cemeteries.
Ed Bixby, who divides his time between his memorial and cemetery business in the east, including the 12-acre Steelmantown Cemetery in Upper Township, and a similar business in California, was approached by the previous owner of the church and asked to take over the cemetery located on the property.
Bixby retired as a contractor after 30 years and now operates Destination Destiny Memorials with its main office in Upper Township.
“We have 12 facilities nationwide,” he said.
Bixby agreed to take over the cemetery, and before too long, the owner offered to sell him the church as well. Bixby, who has two daughters who are involved in the arts, decided it would be a good location to serve as a community center and theater.
“This is going to be Steelmantown Church, and the theater is Imagination Theater,” he said.
Although Bixby, who described himself as “not a religious person,” now owns a church (he has acquired 501(c)(3) status), the term “church” is rather relative. He thought, why not do something with it that would benefit the community?
“It’s part of Universal Life Ministries,” he said. “There will be no active religious services, but it will be open to people who want to do different things,” including getting married or holding funeral services in a historic church setting.
Bixby said since he took possession of the church in December 2022, they have restored the inside and brought it back to its original condition. Part of the original condition being maintained are two large stained-glass windows, with the traditional themes of Jesus caring for His flock and Jesus knocking at the door.
Bixby said the hand-painted windows were the creations of William Reith. Bixby said the entire church building was commissioned by the owner of Bethlehem Steel, who had a summer home in Middle Township.
The church will be the home to the theater, as well as hosting artists, art shows, movie nights and giving the community a place to gather for various purposes.
As for making money, Bixby said that is not a concern.
“As for the theater, there is no charge for the people who will be a part of this. This is not a commercial enterprise, it’s more of a community building. We are changing the purpose and giving it back to the community,” he said.
The opening art show will be for local sign painter, artist and Vietnam War veteran Jim Stagg, June 23-25.
“Jim has always been an artist and I said to him, ‘You’ve got all this wonderful artwork. When you pass away, where is it going to end up?’” Bixby said.
Bixby said he is also inviting schools to use the space. He has one daughter at the Cape May County Technical School, and he has let that school know the building is available.
One of the other changes will be the color of the building. The previous owner took the white church and painted it turquoise. Bixby said he would return it to its original, 1908 color scheme, which was two shades of grey with white trim.
Bixby continued to emphasize that the Steelmantown Church will primarily be for community events and that it is not operating as a business.
“We don’t need to do this as a business. I believe in karma, and we are doing this in good faith,” he said.
For more information regarding the Steelmantown Church, call Bixby at 609-628-2297 or email firstname.lastname@example.org. Also reach out on Instagram at historicgoshenchurch.
Contact the author, Christopher South, at email@example.com or 609-886-8600, ext. 128.