BERRETT - Messiah Lutheran Church on Old Washington Road is bursting at its seams from the population explosion the county has experienced in recent years.

Despite that growth, the congregation wants to maintain the rural character and charm of its 107-year-old white stucco sanctuary.

Toward that end, if the congregation votes next spring to build a new church, the decision already has been made simply to construct a larger replica of the present sanctuary.

"Our intention is to maintain the integrity of the tradition that we already have," said the Rev. John C. Morrill, pastor at Messiah Lutheran for the last three years.

The new church, on a parallel line to the north of the existing one, "would match the current sanctuary in style and architecture," noted Marcus Wood, Building Committee chairman. "We're going to build the new church in the same rural look."

The congregation has been hard at work raising money for the proposed new sanctuary for a year now, although the committee started its work two years ago.

"We started looking at our needs and alternatives (to building a new sanctuary) and asking, 'What can we afford?' in November 1988," Wood said.

"We gave an estimate to the congregation of probably a half million dollars."

The past year's pledge campaign for the new church has reached promises of $150,000 over the next three years, Wood said.

Part of that seed money is being used for the architect and surveying work that needs to be done prior to putting the project out to bid, Morrill added.

Architect Gary Shaffer of Hanover, Pa., already has provided preliminary drawings of a simple, 44-by-70-foot sanctuary with a fellowship hall in the basement, another sorely needed item.

While the present sanctuary and annex will seat only 180, the new church is expected to hold 300 worshipers, and the new fellowship hall will have space for 200 people.

"We really need the fellowship hall," Morrill said. "The fellowship hall we have now is crowded with 65 and it doesn't take long to get oppressive, so people don't want to fellowship for very long."

Wood added that the new sanctuary also would include an interior elevator, making the building handicapped accessible.

Surveying and other engineering work has been done by Leon A. Podolak and Associates of Westminster, who went to the Carroll County Board of Zoning Appeals in October for a variance request to reduce the minimum front yard requirement of 100 feet.

Wood noted the Zoning Board approved the request since the present sanctuary also is less than 100 feet from the roadway.

The new sanctuary will still provide only minimum needs for the congregation, however. The Building Committee rejected constructing a new Sunday school building, even though educationspace also has become critical as class sizes grow.

"The cost would have been $1.2 million with an education building, which we can't afford," Wood noted.

The committee hopes to put the project out to bid next March, he said.

Once the bids come in and the committee has a better idea of the actual cost of the new church, the project will be taken to the congregation for approval or rejection.

"We're estimating the total cost to be under $600,000," Wood said. "It will be a costly venture for the church and one that the whole congregation will have to work together on."

However, the final decision will be left up to the congregation as a whole, since it is they who will have to pay for the church over the coming years.

And with the growth the church is experiencing, Morrill hopes the congregation will give the go-ahead to the project next spring.

"I feel this is Messiah's last shot at any expansion," the pastor said.

"I really think they need to go with it because if they wait any longer it'll be cost-prohibitive."

The church has seen little expansion over the years. Back in the 1950s, Morrill said, the Sunday school building, a sanctuary annex, the fellowship hall and a kitchen were added.

And that was when the membership roll was considerably smaller than it is now. Morrill said the church averages 180 worshipers on Sundays, with three times that number on the books.

With continued growth, he added, he thinks the congregation will have enough money to build the new sanctuary.

"Our growth potential here is great and we're attempting to provide a sanctuary that can provide for the needs of the community into the next century, just as our forefathers saw the need 100 years ago," Wood said.

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