Giving exceeds hopes, church speeds addition Plan to cost $1.4 million


WESTMINSTER -- Looking ahead to the year 2000, First United Presbyterian Church of Westminster has begun a $1.4 million renovation and expansion project.

In addition to adding a new 350-seat sanctuary and office space, the 334-member congregation renovated offices and classrooms for their non-denominational Christian pre-school.

The congregation hopes to grow to 500 by 1995.

"We're trying to look ahead with the design," said the Rev. Steven R. Fleming, pastor of First United Presbyterian. 'We want to get into the 21st century and beyond the year 2000."

Members had hoped that the contractor, Total Construction of Ellicott City, could begin the project in May. But delayed approvals from the state, county and city pushed building back another four months.

"We're in the city, but a corner of our property is in the county and we face a state highway," Mr. Fleming said. "With three groups interacting, we had some delays because of the number of approvals we needed. But we feel the agencies cooperated with us and with each other very well."

Phase One will consist of building a new 350-seat sanctuary, with a full basement if the church should need more room in the future.

"The space is not needed now," Mr. Fleming said, adding that the construction will consume most of the 3.9-acre lot. "If we don't put it in, we lose the chance for future expansion."

Seating in the octagonal wing -- which will have stained glass windows, a skylight and a lighted steeple -- is in semi-circular format, similar to the present arrangement.

"In the current sanctuary, we're seated so we can see each other's faces," Mr. Fleming said. "We like that sense of personal contact with people being not too far from the pulpit.

"We tried to enhance that sense of relationship and family, that we are people of God gathering together to worship."

The sanctuary also will feature a "baby cry" room in the back where parents can take fussy youngsters, a sound room for videotaping services for broadcast on the community access channel and a $150,000 M.P. Moller organ donated by Mechanicsburg Presbyterian Church near Harrisburg, Pa.

"They are a congregation of about 1,000 and growing, and are enlarging their church," Mr. Fleming said. "They told us we could have the organ if we carted it away."

So a group of volunteers took it apart and packed it for storage in Westminster. The organ will be reinstalled with "expert help" about a month before the new sanctuary is completed, Mr. Fleming said.

The sanctuary will be connected to the present structure by a triangular portion that houses offices for the pastor and associate pastor, restrooms for disabled parishioners, a choir suite, a board and conference room, and an office for volunteers.

Phase Two will consist of building a two-level, multi-purpose area with a mini-gymnasium to be used for fellowship meetings, the day-care program and service organizations that meet at the church.

Phase Three will involve expanding the present sanctuary into a large fellowship hall and providing for classroom space underneath.

Although the church had planned to break the building project into three sections, pledges and giving exceeded the amount expected. So the group decided to combine Phases One and Two, completing two-thirds of the project in May 1993.

"The interesting thing is that we held this campaign in November when things were looking pretty bleak," Mr. Fleming said. He said members pledged $480,000 over three years to the project.

"Four hundred fifty thousand dollars [in pledges] was our best guess, so when people exceeded that by close to 10 percent in a down time, we saw that as a sign of God leading us."

However, the church didn't use "pressure tactics" to encourage members to give, Mr. Fleming said.

Although Resource Services of Dallas, a professional fund-raising company, was employed, the company emphasized spiritual growth and praying to determine how much each person should give, Mr. Fleming said.

"The company had an emphasis on prayer and Biblical-based sacrificial giving," Mr. Fleming said. "We really feel that is the way to build a church."

In addition, each member has had an opportunity to contribute advice or talent to the project. Committees have been formed to pick colors for church rooms, select furnishings and install different pieces of equipment.

"We have provided ample opportunities for people to contribute to the project, Mr. Fleming said. "People always warned me about the ability of a program to divide a church, but this has really cemented our relationships. A major project of this scale could not be done without cooperation."

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