After 92 years, the Methodist Church in Richland will be moving to a new location.
A leap of faith taken by Richland’s congregation of Methodists appears to have the stamp of a greater hand at work. The construction of a new building designed to meet the needs of its 21st-century members has come together like it was meant to be.
“When we stepped out on faith in 2014 to consider building a new church, we had to overcome many things: Fear of the unknown, sadness over leaving the historic building that had served us for 92 years, and anxiety over finances,” wrote building chair Cindy Payne for a program on the new building. “But at every step of the process, God supported us.”
For a congregation that has worshipped in the same physical location for nearly 100 years, the decision to move was not done lightly, but after a bequest from members Gladys and Lenford Fritts, there seemed to be a nudge in a new direction.
“It’s been a long process. In 2012, we found out as a church about the bequest of $460,000, but there was a stipulation that we had to build a new sanctuary to use it,” said Payne in an interview.
A building study was done to see what the congregation would need to do to afford not just a new sanctuary but all that goes with a new worship center. Renovation of the existing site was also considered, as the bequest allowed them to also use it for renovations but only after 15 years.
“Fifteen years is a long time, and we’ve been growing a lot over the past five years,” said Payne. “We have a young pastor who is a musician — a first rate musician, singer and pastor.”
On a “new page with a new vision” thanks to guidance from Pastor Mitch Henson, the congregation has approximately doubled in the last few years, growing from an average of 40 members to 80. And they keep adding, according to Payne.
“We felt like we didn’t have the right kind of facility for a modern 21st century church. Our building wasn’t very accessible. We had tall stairs — we had an elevator too but it’s not always working.”
Ultimately, the building study concluded that a new structure was in order, not so much for the size but for functionality. Then the question became how to close the gap between the funds from the bequest and the total cost of such a facility.
And that’s also where it gets exciting for Payne.
“It’s not necessarily coming to this shiny new facility that’s so exciting to me as the building chair. It’s the way we came here, the way we had to get together,” she said.
Compromise was central to getting this project done, said Payne. Change can be hard, and members sometimes had to give up things that they wanted. The church lost one member in the process, according to Payne, but for the most part, the congregation stayed a unit through the decision to move, design and construction of the new building.
After the building committee was formed, they took about a year to decide what kind of church they wanted, then started on a campaign to raise the additional money to fund a new facility that would look to blend modern lifestyles with members still traditional design sensibility.
The campaign raised $250,000 in pledges, then along came one of the “most amazing parts” — a grant for just the amount they needed to finish off fundraising for the new church.
“I found out by chance about a foundation in Michigan through Bank of America, the John C. Lasco Foundation. They will fund the sanctuary portion of a new church, but you have to apply,” recalled Payne. “By the time I found out about it, we had one week left to apply, but we got the grant papers and sent it in — and we received, months later. Out of the blue I had picked out a number to put in, $200,000, and that’s how much they gave us.”
“When we cobbled together the money from Gladys Fritts, her money started the whole thing, then the church coming together, we’re still a small congregation to come up with $225,000 over a short time and then the wonderful grant for $200,000 — we’re hoping to finish now without borrowing a dime.”
With a total cost pretty much right at $900,000, Randy Wall Construction of Lebanon is building the new 8,900 square-foot facility designed by architect Dwight Brennfoerder of Joplin.
Wheelchair accessible and ADA compliant, yes, and also featuring LED lighting to conserve energy, modern technology will help take the congregation into what looks like a promising future.
But they didn’t leave the past behind. For all their youth and forward-outlook, the congregation is still “kind of a traditionalist group,” said Payne.
While there is a foyer/fellowship hall that includes a coffee shop kind of atmosphere, the sanctuary features a traditional style sanctuary and altar, though they did install chairs instead of pews.
Back in that foyer, there’s a linear fireplace to encourage gathering and fellowship outside of the worship service. A commercial modern kitchen in the fellowship hall area features stainless steal appliances and a big pantry area. A cry room for parents is wired for audio feed capability to still hear the sermon when kids are fussing, and a television at the fireplace in the foyer is connected to a video feed of the altar so that any overflow from the sanctuary can watch the service.
The old church building, constructed in 1925, is still a beautiful facility in its own right though and is by no means forgotten.
The congregation is in talks with a potential buyer, but will not close officially on the deal until the end of February, says Payne. While it is too soon to say too much, the buyer is a local businesswoman who plans to restore the three-story 8,500-square-foot red brick structure with its elegant period stained glass windows, according to Payne.
“Rumor is that she will use the sanctuary as a wedding chapel and venue for other events. Our church members and community are very happy that she is going to keep it going with new life and purpose,” she says.
About all that is left now is to say goodbye to the old and to put on the new.
The congregation is in the midst of making the switch now. Last Sunday, Feb. 12, was its last service at 111 S. Pine Street. This Sunday, Feb. 19, will be its first at 1000 Hwy. 133.
A dedication ceremony open to the community is planned for 10:30 a.m. March 26.
For anyone who is interested, Richland UMC is holding an auction at 10 a.m. Saturday, Feb. 18 to sell off the old pews, chairs, kitchen appliances and just all of the accumulated stuff that comes with a history of 92 years.
While change can be difficult, perhaps it too can be good for the soul.
In the program about the new facility, Payne wrapped it up well, saying “Some day, years from now, a Methodist from our future will pick up this directory and read about 2017, just as we have picked up dusty directories from 50 years ago, marveling at the love, courage and sacrifice that created the church at Campground in 1840, the church built in town in 1878, and the church built in 1925 that was our home for 92 years. Our prayer is that you, that future Methodist, will realize what a rich history your church has and how much God has accomplished with you in mind! Continue to Connect, Grow, and Serve.”