After 32 years inside its 200-seat sanctuary, leaders, volunteers and members of Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Columbia are celebrating new growth in its expanded sanctuary May 22 during a worship service, nearly 10 years after the project began.

The congregation has met inside one of the center's two sanctuaries since it first opened in 1984, sharing the building with Christ United Methodist Church. Now expanded into a third sanctuary, senior minister the Rev. Paige Getty said UUCC has doubled its seating space as well as added office space, classrooms, a music rehearsal room and a youth room.


Total costs were just under $4 million, Getty said, with two-thirds raised through fundraising contributions by members and supporters – beginning in 2011 – and the remainder coming from a loan.

The first service in the new sanctuary was held on May 8.

"It was wonderful; the energy in the room, the sounds, the excitement, the looks of wonder and surprise on people's faces when they walked in," Getty said. "Actually using the space for the first time allowed us to really know that what we dreamed of is coming true."

Prior renovations, which began in 2002, included construction of office and classroom space downstairs. Other additions followed inside the main floor's lobby, along with the signature stained glass curtain above the entryway facing the parking lot.

By 2007, Executive Director Maureen Harris said the congregation began questioning whether to expand or move to another location to accommodate the congregation's growth. With a desire to stay at the interfaith center, members knew something had to change when each service ran out of seats, and members frequently had to stand.

"There's a statistic that applies across faith communities that if a newcomer walks into your sanctuary and the seats are 80 percent full, that feels to them like there's no room for them," Harris added, referring to the "80 percent rule." "We just feel very much that we want to be able to welcome and have room for anyone who wants to join us."

Although more space was a necessity, Harris said everyone wanted the sanctuary to maintain its natural beauty and atmosphere. Where sliding glass doors once covered one wall of the old sanctuary, facing trees, grass and plants, Harris said the architect incorporated twice the window space in the design to keep, but enhance, the view.

A larger stage, a chancel, was also built, raising the worship leaders, choir and pianist for easy visibility.

"Then, at the back of the sanctuary is a smaller room that has glass windows," Harris said. "If you're sitting in that room, you'll be able to hear whatever is happening in the main sanctuary. Some people will traditionally call it the quiet or crying room."

Chapel ceremonies or small meditation groups will also be held inside the room, she said.

It's about "deeds, not creeds," Harris said, acknowledging collaborative community outreach efforts with St. John's Baptist Church that will be present during Sunday's dedication.

UUCC encourages the community to attend the worship, she said, which will be filled with music by the ministry and a sermon by St. John's Baptist Church's senior minister, the Rev. Robert Turner.

"Generally, we just want to have a bigger impact on our community," Harris said. "We feel like having the space in worship, in addition to more classroom space for children and more office space for staff, that will all enable us to really ramp up our efforts to make a difference in Howard County."