Despite cloudy skies and drizzling rain, more than 600 people attended the ceremonial groundbreaking Sunday of the new Glen Mar United Methodist Church in Ellicott City -- 50 years after its first worship service was held at Ellicott City Junior High School.
"Over the years, many things have changed. But some have not," said the Rev. Anders Lunt, senior pastor. "The flame that was ignited by faith, in 1954, is still burning by faith. And a little rain isn't going to put it out."
The event, which included a live band and singing from the church's vacation Bible school children, took place at a 22-acre site at Montgomery and New Cut roads. The first phase of building the church campus will cost $11 million and begin in the middle of next month.
New Cut Road's traffic safety has been a concern among residents , and Lunt said the church wants to work with the county to extend the road past its entrance to alleviate those problems.
The church is expected to be completed in time for next year's Christmas Eve service, said Al Hammer, minister of administration.
The features of the new building include:
Two main entrances with parking on either side of the church.
A music suite for choir and instrumental rehearsals.
A multipurpose room that will double as a worship center and gymnasium.
A three-story education wing that will include preschool and day care rooms, administrative offices and a parish care center for private counseling.
A community room to be used by groups for support meetings and other gatherings
The back of the building will face east, enabling the congregation to view sunrise during the service Easter morning, said Hammer. He added that a grassy amphitheater and ball field are slated for the rear and east side of the church, respectively.
"It's really kind of a neat facility -- it sits atop a hill, and one side is two-stories, and the back side is three," Hammer said."
The second and third phases will be completed in the future, and plans call for a new sanctuary that seats 950 people, a bookstore and coffee shop.
Hammer said plans for the facility came about three summers ago after ministry leaders were asked to give the church's building team their "dreams" for a new church.
"After that, we took it up with the architect," said Hammer, adding that the new church will reflect Glen Mar's mission of praising God, attracting disciples and serving the world.
Glen Mar held its first worship service July 18, 1954, with 56 people at the junior high school now known as Ellicott Mills Middle School.
After decades at its present location off Route 104, the church's new campus is expected to accommodate its rapidly expanding 1,300-member congregation.
Shirley Adams, a founding member of the church who lives in Sarasota, Fla., but retains a membership at Glen Mar, said she is thrilled about plans for the new building.
"My feeling is, if the church doesn't change, it doesn't grow," she said.
Throughout the years, Adams has witnessed the ups and downs of the church's growth.
"We had some strong years, and we had some low years ... with dwindling memberships, and things were so bad that people were leaving in the mid-'70s," she recalled.
But the members did not give up.
"We were rescued by a retired pastor [the Rev. Bill Apsley] who was 75 years old," she said.
Adams, whose involvement in the church has included singing in the choir, teaching Sunday School and leading Bible School, said Glen Mar's small group ministry has enabled members to feel connected in a growing church.
"They really know your needs," she said.
Ingrid Wang, the church's pastoral intern, agreed.
"They are doing some great things here, and I believe God led me here," she said.