It was an exciting day for the congregation at First United Methodist Church as the local house of worship made a temporary move across the street in preparation for a remodeling project of the church’s sanctuary.
What began nearly three years ago as a dream to bring the sanctuary’s original beauty out from hiding behind a ceiling is now becoming a reality after the congregation relocated all of the building’s contents to its Family Center on Sunday.
Mike Ford, chairman of FUMC’s building committee, said the project began when the congregation voted to stay in its present location and remodel the sanctuary.
“It has taken that period of time, both to design and get the construction drawings done, and also to do fund raising and get our coffers built to a point where we could borrow the money,” said Ford. “The project, in essence, will gut the entire building from floor to ceiling.”
Contractors will remove the second floor and open the entire sanctuary to expand the size of the altar area and increase the seating area by 50 to 100 more, said Ford. “The remodel will be getting that old sanctuary back into code. It’s a pretty massive project but it’s only going to take six months to complete.”
The Methodist Church, which was constructed in 1916, was remodeled in the 1960s, said Ford. “At that time they put in a dropped ceiling. There’s a beautiful wood ceiling that’s been covered up for all these years.”
Pastor David Leach says the remodel will also reorient the sanctuary back to its original caddy-corner layout instead of its current north-south orientation.
“The chancel area will be in the corner of the building instead of the front allowing for more worship space and giving us the freedom to do things we can’t do right now,” said Leach. “It’s an older style and gives us a wider and open space to allow for people to sit fairly close to the front rather than back in a narrow sanctuary.”
Once the remodel is complete, Ford says the church will also enjoy updated amenities including video screens and a state-of-the-art sound system. “Our intent is to keep that sanctuary modern and yet have the look and feel of the older style.”
New pews and furniture reminiscent of an earlier day in the life of the church will be added as well, said Ford.
In order for architects to get a better understanding of the church’s historic integrity and appearance, Ford said the building committee met with long-time congregants and reviewed old photographs.
“We have some photos of when they were actually building the sanctuary and we have some interior shots from couples in our church who were married in the old sanctuary,” said Ford. “There are a lot of folks who have lived here all their lives who have a great remembrance of how it once was laid out.”
Leach also said that several small stained glass windows above the ceiling will be visible once again after the remodel is complete.
“Some are missing because they have an air vent there and some have been broken,” said Leach. “We’ll have some windows built where there are no stained glass windows and hopefully people in the church will decide to give those as a memorial.”
Leach added that the maker of the original stained glass windows is still in operation making it easier to match those still part of the sanctuary.
The FUMC has committed $1.2 million to the project, said Ford, and acquired the services of Speed Fab-Crete to carry out the remodel.
On Sunday, May 18, the church combined its two worship services at 10 a.m., and after it concluded the congregation rolled up their sleeves to start the move.
“By 2 p.m. we had emptied the sanctuary of virtually everything,” said Ford, including the piano.
Among the church’s contents were its long wooden pews which found a new home as the local FUMC looks to usher in a new era.
“The pews were donated to a church in New Orleans that is still trying to recover from Hurricane Katrina,” said Ford. “Two members of the Lion of Judah International Ministry came up to Glen Rose and they took 16 pews home with them as well as some altar rails. They were thrilled with the donation.”
Ford said FUMC member Pam Martin knew of an individual in Louisiana helping with the relief efforts, and contacted him to see if any churches could make use of the pews.
“They sent up a truck and one of our members, Grady Brittain, because there were five pews that we couldn’t get into that truck, he loaded them on his trailer and followed them down there and dropped them off Monday,” said Ford. “It just turned out to be a conscious decision on our part to donate them.”
Leach was also delighted to see the pews find a new home in a city still trying to rebuild after the devastating hurricane.
“The congregation seemed excited that the pews were not going to be lost or sold,” said Leach. “It would have been hard to do so anyway because they were so long. They were glad to see they would be part of a worship setting somewhere, and to help folks in a church in New Orleans. It was a great thing to be able to make a difference as part of our rebuilding process.”
On Monday the contractors moved in to begin the process of gutting the FUMC sanctuary, said Ford. “Over the next few days there will be some asbestos abatement before any real remodeling work begins inside the church.”
Although FUMC will call its Family Center its temporary house of worship, Leach says the congregation is very excited about the remodeling project.
“It’ll be a little more crowded but the space has been used as a fellowship hall before,” said Leach. “We’ve had meals and activities of all kinds so it will be hard for us to do that when we do.”
The local Methodist pastor says it’s been his congregation’s dream for many years to restore the church to its original splendor, but fortunately after being put on hold for a number of years, it’s becoming a reality.
“They were real excited about the whole thing - you can just feel it,” said Leach. “We had a good crowd at the church conference to approve the remodel and we had a great crowd Sunday morning who helped us move everything out of the sanctuary.”
Leach said if the contractors’ timeline is met, “we could be back in by Christmas.”