When the walls at Woods Memorial Presbyterian Church started tumbling down last week, 1,800 members rejoiced.

Bulldozers bit into the cedar-shingled building as workmen began removing a third of the sanctuary to make room for a larger structure.

For the crowded Severna Park congregation, the machinery was a welcome sight, says the pastor, the Rev. W. Terry Schoener.

"The church has been overcrowded for really the whole 12 years I've been here, particularly the last half-dozen years," Schoener said.

The church has been forced to hold three services Sunday mornings and four services Christmas Eve and Easter. Woods has been running two Sunday Schools, but even with double classes, parents were sometimes told theycouldn't bring their children to the early Sunday School. There justwasn't enough space.

"It's a wonderful kind of problem to have," says Schoener. "What a great opportunity! But the frustration has been that families come and can't sit together. Occasionally they get turned away and asked to come back at another service."

Church officials attribute the increased numbers to a rise in membership, but also a rise in attending members.

About two years ago, Woods began planning for an extensive 10-year building project. The congregation approved the plans six months ago, and the first phase of the $6 million expansion -- the disassembling of part of the sanctuary -- got under way Dec. 20.

Unlike the biblical Jericho, for Woods, leveling the walls was the easy part. Figuring out where to put everything during the construction is another matter.

The organ has been relegatedto storage; the lawn is doing duty as a day-care playground; church belongings have been stored in rental trailers, and the church is borrowing space to hold Christian Education classes at a nearby YMCA.

"We didn't have enough space before, and now we're taken down to half our space. What was a nasty problem has become almost impossible," says Schoener.

Explains Marijo Hickok, chairwoman of the master planning committee:

"The music director had to plan music for the year with just a piano, then put away everything that's not necessary. You know what it's like to renovate your home and how disruptive thatis; our church family life is being quite disrupted.

"For example, we're used to having a lovely gathering area as you walk in for artexhibits and serving coffee. Now, you walk in and bump your nose on a wall," Hickok says.

Fortunately, other local churches and a nearby YMCA have been extremely generous in offering space, says Schoener.

Phase I, the most extensive of three planned phases, is expectedto take about a year. The north third of the sanctuary, the educational wing, is being demolished. The worship space will be doubled witha 28,000-square-foot addition, allowing for a 575-seat sanctuary. The construction also will include a new day-care center and church school, more than doubling the size of both activities, says Allen.

Designed by the Kerns Group Inc. in Washington, the construction has been contracted to Gardiner and Gardiner Inc., a Crofton company.

The initial cost of the three-phase project is $3.2 million, with a $1.3 million mortgage, Allen says. The church is within $100,000 of itsinitial financial goal of $2 million, says Allen, "but the last $100,000 is the hardest $100,000."

The subsequent phases will be shortand much less expensive, merely renovation of old spaces. Plans for Phases II and III, loosely scheduled for the next 10 years, will be made when the time comes. If all three phases work out, the 32,400-square-foot church would almost double in size.

The project cost alsoincludes $225,000 for a major mission campaign. Whenever a Presbyterian church is built, a component of financing is delegated for missions beyond the community. Woods has delegated money for rebuilding an orphanage in Jamaica that was destroyed by a hurricane and for housing the homeless in Baltimore, along with helping a fledgling Presbyterian church in Odenton.

But while the expansion includes needs elsewhere, "the brick and mortar is for mission right here," Hickok says.

"Our facility is used every single day and every single night of the week," says Jim Allen, who is supervising the building project. "We need this building. We want to extend our outreach in the Greater Severna Park area. We want to make it attractive for people to come here without having to get here and stand up because there's no room."

Copyright © 2019, The Baltimore Sun, a Baltimore Sun Media Group publication | Place an Ad