First UMC, Easley, brings worshipers to common table

Renovation embraces needs of traditional, non-traditional services

By Alice Vander Linden, David Cantrell and Chris Weston

EASLEY—First United Methodist Church successfully confronted a dilemma of bringing together at one common worship setting two congregations that had grown within its membership at its non-traditional service and the traditional worship hour.

The church created the non-traditional early worship hour, its Sonrise service, more than 15 years ago in a former bank building the church owned across the street from the main church campus. It quickly grew with a vibrant modern music ministry and an informal setting. The pastor preached at both the 8:40 a.m. and 11 a.m. services.

The early service grew to a point where it was pinched for space. And the church was seeking to divest itself of properties—and expenses—to focus on needed renovations.

It was the perfect time, said the Rev. Rodney Powell, to put before the congregation the ambition of transforming the church’s sanctuary into a new worship area that embraced the church’s history and traditions with the high-technology needs of the early service.

“The fact that we didn’t share a common worship space gave rise to a growing divisiveness within the church,” Powell said. “It was almost like serving a two-point charge when we first came.”

Church’s deep roots

In the 1820s, Francis Asbury preached at a camp meeting at Burdine’s Spring in what is now Pickens County. Asbury always sent circuit riders to follow up, and consequently there was a strong Methodist presence in Easley by the time Mount Olivet Methodist Episcopal Church was established in 1846.

The first church was a large brush arbor. It remained an open-air church until 1874 when the Airline Railroad cut through the middle of the property and the trustees sued the railroad for damages. The money received was applied to the erection of a new church in 1878.

W.M. Hagood was the trustee in charge of the erection of the building and gave the bell for the bell tower. This same bell rings in First Methodist’s bell tower today.

The church continued to grow, and in 1925 it purchased two tracts of land on West 1st Avenue and, in 1928, purchased two more adjacent tracts.

In the quarterly conference, the church voted to construct a new sanctuary on the West 1st site that would better suit the needs of the congregation. This building was approved, and the cornerstone was laid July 29, 1930.

On Sunday morning Oct. 19, 1930, the congregation moved into the new church.

An education building with a fellowship hall and classrooms was built in 1955. And in 1961, the church completed the construction of a new sanctuary with offices at the corner of West 1st Avenue and South 1st Street.

Growth and change

As the church continued to grow, it became evident that there was a desire and need for a contemporary service, and in early 2000, First began a Sonrise service. It grew to the point that the building was at capacity.

If it were to continue to grow, there would have to be renovations somewhere. Also, the traditional service parishioners and the contemporary service parishioners rarely had any interaction.

In January 2013, a planning task force committee was formed and approved by the church council. A congregational worship survey was conducted that indicated that the majority was amenable to renovating the sanctuary to meet the needs of both worship services.

“Members of our congregation certainly had some differences of opinion, but our focus was to provide renovations that would best position our church for ministry for the next 25 years,” said Jeff Fogle, a member of the church and chair of the Building Committee. “As part of our process, we conducted an analysis of all of our facilities and found that most buildings were very underutilized—less than three hours in most cases. The renovations focused on meeting our most pressing needs related to worship within our core campus buildings.”

At the request of the task force and church council, a committee representing both services was formed to study the feasibility of using the current sanctuary for both the contemporary service and traditional service.

The goal for the new worship space was to provide a place with the latest, state-of-the-art audio/visual equipment, while maintaining the feel of a traditional worship space.

Requests from the committee included bringing the altar forward, extending the chancel area to accommodate the band and chancel choir, a moveable pulpit/lectern, upgrading the sound system and adding projector and power point capabilities.

There were also requests to add retractable screens, retain the organ and provide space for the baby grand piano, along with providing storage for band equipment, upgrading congregational seating, providing a gathering/refreshment area and possibly enlarging the church’s narthex.

Another goal was to provide a nursery in close proximity to the sanctuary, explore a color scheme change and turn the choir to face the congregation, provide retractable shading for the windows and install programmable thermostats to maintain constant temperature for the upkeep of the pipe organ and the comfort of the congregation.

Making it happen

A three-day planning session by the task force took place and reported to the church council, where a vote of confidence was received and the report was offered at a congregational meeting in April 2015.

In June 2015, a seven-member building committee was formed, an architect was chosen in August and a general contractor was selected in October. Another congregational meeting was held in December to update the membership.

In April 2016, the renovation project received the endorsement of the Anderson District Board on Church Building and Location.

After moving out, asbestos removal, organ pipe and piano storage and assorted housekeeping chores, actual construction began on Oct. 3, 2016.

On April 30, 2017, the newly renovated sanctuary will be consecrated.

“Finally,” Powell said, “we will be able to experience the unity of one pulpit, one font and one table.”

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