Twenty years ago, members of Wesley United Methodist Church called the cafeteria of Lakeside Middle School their sanctuary.
In those early days of the church, volunteers hauled chairs, an altar rail, baptismal font, drums and other equipment to the school for Sunday worship services.
Plans were made for a permanent sanctuary on 22 acres of farmland off North Belair Road. A $2.2 million building was built, complete with offices, classrooms and a multipurpose gathering hall.
“Because we use it for so many different things, our folks are still hauling chairs out for worship on Sunday,” said the Rev. Greg Porterfield, the church’s pastor. “Every day we broke it down. On Saturday night, we had to put it all back again.”
Now, for the first time in the church’s 22-year-history, Wesley United Methodist Church has a dedicated sanctuary. The new $5 million, 12,000-square-foot space will be dedicated in a service at the church Sunday.
The new sanctuary doubles the amount of seating space, from about 500 worshippers to 1,000.
“This was the culmination of all our efforts,” said Porterfield, who has pastored the church for about eight years. “Some of our members have waited 20 years for this. It’s been dreamed of for that long.”
The construction began 18 months ago. Final touches are still being put on the sanctuary and accompanying courtyard and fountain.
“I love the light, the natural elements, the stone, the wood,” said the Rev. Adam Hilderbrant, associate pastor. “It’s a beautiful place, not just because of how it looks, but because of how it’s used. I see it as a mission outpost. That’s what this church is about, going out to serve the world and our community.”
The focal point of the new sanctuary is a stained glass window with an image of Jesus as the Good Shepherd. The window also depicts symbols central to the Christian faith, including a dove, crown, lilies and butterfly.
“The first banner we ever had as a church was a butterfly,” Porterfield said. “It’s not only a symbol of resurrection, but who we are as a church.”
The former sanctuary, which Wesley calls its Celebration Space, is being upgraded in the transition. When the new larger stage and lighting are complete, contemporary services will be held in the Celebration Space at 9:30 and 11 a.m., while traditional services will be held in the sanctuary at 8:30, 9:30 and 11 a.m.
The sanctuary will be consecrated at the church’s 11 a.m. service Sunday. The program includes special music from brass quartet and “dueling pianos.” Bishop Mike Watson of the North Georgia Conference of the United Methodist Church, along with some of Wesley’s former pastors, will be in attendance.
“We consecrate our spaces to the glory of God for the purposes of God,” Porterfield said. “This isn’t the completion of what we do. It’s the beginning. As a church, we’re not anywhere close to done. This is where we begin.”