Monday, September 24, 2012

Celebrating One of God's Surprises

Yesterday at our church we celebrated 3 years in our current building.  A new building for a church is a big thing, no doubt, but we acquired this new and lovely building quite by accident.  Let me tell you about it.

Our congregation was meeting in a much-loved but way-too-small building. Our congregation supported a preschool so our space was shared.  What that meant was that every Sunday the preschool chairs, tables, toys, etc. had to be moved back in our fellowship hall so that grown-up sized tables could be set up.  This switcheroo happened after every meeting, wedding or any gathering. We had 4 small classrooms - not enough. Our junior high class met behind  a divider rolled out to give the feeling of a room just outside the bathroom doors.  It was noisy and keeping the kids' attention was difficult. Other classes had to make do as well.  I remember one creative teacher using a pop-up tent in the entryway for her little preschool class!  Again, noisy and awkward...but creative for sure!

 We were fundraising to add on to the building.  Those in charge were working hard to plan this addition as there were some big challenges.  The main challenge was space.  Our parking lot was already too small and we were rather land-locked with other nearby buildings.  Adding onto our existing building without sacrificing parking was going to be tough.

One day my pastor/husband called me at work to tell me of a very weird occurrence.  The pastor of another congregation of another denomination had asked my husband to come up to meet with him.  Mike had no idea what to expect and not for a second did he guess what was coming.  The other pastor's congregation met in a very large building just a few blocks from our's.  Their property was beautiful!  The problem was, their congregation had suffered a split and was greatly diminished in numbers.  They no longer used their big sanctuary as it was too expensive for them to heat the entire building.  They met in their fellowship hall.  Downstairs they had a wonderful place made especially for Sunday School AND preschool.   The other pastor had an idea... swap buildings.

When my husband called me, I must say, I instantly thought it was a God-thing.  Of course, it couldn't be a straight across swap.  Our congregation would need to take out a loan for the difference.  We'd then face larger heating and cooling bills ourselves.  The property was so over-the-top lovely to us.  Could it be possible?  It would be like someone offering you a mansion to live in.  How could we make it happen?

When this idea came before our congregation, there were differing opinions.  The money concern was of course the biggest obstacle.  Also, there was a lot of sentimental attachment to the old building.  For instance, people had used memorial money, honoring loved ones, toward the stained glass windows.  It hurt them to think of leaving those behind.

The new building was so much bigger than what we actually needed at that time.  Was it reasonable to consider such a big leap of faith?  If we acquired it, would our congregation grow enough to fill it up or would we just rattle around in it?

Well, we took the leap.  About 6 months after that pastor called Mike for the first meeting, we were moving in.  It was a weird move as well.  The two congregations had to move at the same time.  We'd pass each other hauling things out while they were hauling things in.  We helped each other.  The two groups made friends and worked together.  It was a lot of hard work but also kind of fun.  Even now, 3 years later, we still feel "related" to that other congregation.

Yesterday's gathering was fun.  I did not ask permission to show faces so I won't.  Trust me, though, people were smiling.  We'd invited people from the neighborhood as our guests so it was a fun mix of people we knew and some we were just meeting.  After our worship service and Sunday School we enjoyed a lovely picnic.

After all the fun I was wandering around in the building, waiting for Mike.  I took photos of two things that held special significance for that celebration.  The first is this cross.  It used to hang from the ceiling over the alter at our old building.  It was kind of the focal point of our previous worship space.  The other congregation, planning their remodel, did not plan to use it.  When we moved, the cross came with us and now one of the first things seen upon entering our new building.

Another cool thing are these photos.  They hang in our prayer room.  A member of our congregation took these photos of the stained glass windows we had to leave behind.  What a fine idea!

The best part of this whole story is of course, the people.  When the idea was first proposed, there were people who spoke against it.  Their reasons were solid, including worrying about finances.  However, when the congregation voted to go ahead with the plan, those who were once opposed became some of the hardest workers to make it come to fruition.  I thought that was absolutely beautiful to see!

There have been things to work out and issues to resolve.  Our congregation has gone through some trials along the way.  After three years, though, we are still celebrating this cool God thing that happened to us!  


Michelle said...

I look forward to worshiping with you in this lovely building next Sunday!

thats classified said...

Me too!

Janet, said...

That is a very neat story. I love that you took pictures of your stained glass windows, that was a very good idea.The church I go to is over 100 years old and very small. But, we have a small congregation, so that's all right.

Allen said...

I love to tell the story. It was a great GOD thing. I love the fact that we remember and keep it going.

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