BY KAREN GERHARDINGER | MIRROR REPORTER — Most groundbreaking ceremonies are a reason to celebrate, but for the members of Waterville United Methodist Church, this Saturday’s turn of the shovel is a long-awaited, momentous step.
“It’s been 27 years in the making,” said Rev. Mike Denman, who will be surrounded by church members as he breaks ground on an 11,000-square-foot, $3 million church on Saturday, March 27 at 1:00 p.m.
In 1994, leaders began talking about how to overcome challenges of the 1915 church, which is located in a neighborhood at the corner of Mechanic and Fifth streets. Parking, accessibility, a lack of gathering spaces and visibility were among the concerns.
“We need to have missions for our community and continue to be that beacon of light,” said Stephen Crandall, a member of the new building leadership team. “We can’t do that where we are. We need a better location that’s more visible with lots of parking.”
In 1996, after a two-year search, the members purchased 9.5 acres at 7115 Waterville-Monclova Rd. At the time, Bridgehampton Woods was just getting started, the fire station was still located near Conrad Park, and the 350 acres across the street were just farmland.
Now, as hundreds of apartments are set to open and hundreds of villas and homes are occupied, the new church home is in a prime location to reach out to the growing community, Denman said.
“This will be a facility like nothing else. It will be a church, but also a community building,” Crandall said.
The new, fully accessible facility will have a large sanctuary and gathering space, a kitchen, classrooms, meeting areas and offices. The 50-foot-wide chancel at the front of the sanctuary will have a backstage area ideal for theater and performance groups, Denman said. A state-of-the-art audio-visual system also means more opportunities for performances and streaming.
Theater for the World, a nonprofit group that donates 100 percent of its profits from performances to charity, operates out of Waterville UMC. Tom and Karen Wiggins, members of the group and the church, are looking forward to their first performance in the new facility.
“The new church will provide better lighting and sound, as well as a more accessible backstage area,” Karen said. That means no more watching the actors entering the stage along the side of the sanctuary. It also allows the group to produce a dinner theater for up to 160.
“Our primary motivator is to be a true partner with the community and have this building be available for multiple uses,” Crandall said.
The church will continue to partner with Boy Scout Troop 101, Operation Christmas Child and Waterville Primary School. Recently, Sunday School students created care packages to thank the teachers and staff for all they’ve done for the students, and members donated 13 Chrome-books for student use. Susie’s Coats and Waterville UMC provide coats, hats and gloves to children in need. This is a partnership that Denman expects to expand in the future.
“One of our desires and callings is to minister to the whole (school) building,” Denman said of the school, which will be within a short walk of the new church.
In addition to opening the building for the community, the half-acre of green space behind the church will also be available for groups, including lacrosse teams.
Pursuing so many missions is possible because of a team of dedicated people who do things in the background, said Crandall. One of those missions is to provide welcome packages to anyone new to Waterville. That will include hundreds of people who will move into the new apartments on Pray Boulevard in the coming months. It’s part of a directive from Acts 1:8, which states, “You will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”
That means Waterville, the Anthony Wayne community, Ohio and around the world, Denman said. Everyone, whether struggling or well-off, is deserving of love.
Construction of the new building is expected to be wrapped up in February 2022. Building God’s Way – Weaver Construction is handling the project.
The existing church will be put on the market with a commercial realtor. Typically, it takes an average of eight months to sell a church, Denman learned.
While the cross and some seating from the church will be moved, the stained-glass windows that the Farnsworth and Pray families donated 105 years ago will remain, as removing and replacing them would be risky.
“It is our hope that a new owner can bring new life to the building for added community benefit and use,” Denman said.