Six months after breaking ground, the Woodlawn UMC construction project is in full swing and set to open as early as September. Woodlawn's former sanctuary, built in 1909, was destroyed by fire in May of 2009.
Rev. Matt Lacey, pastor of Woodlawn UMC and conference Director of Missions and Advocacy, notes that while it's exciting to be building the new facility, the project is bittersweet. "It's hard, of course," Lacey said. "Losing the church was like losing memories. Baptisms, weddings, and many other times of celebration were housed in the old sanctuary."
On the other hand, the congregation is learning what it means to stronger, leaner and more passionate. Lacey reminded the congregation in his sermon on Pentecost Sunday, the two-year mark of the fire that destroyed the building, that it was an opportunity to refocus priorities and reflect on what they want to be to the community. "I told them that what we decide to do here can say something about what it means to be the church. I want Woodlawn to be known as a church that takes Jesus seriously. To be in ministry in this neighborhood takes a serious faith."
The congregation has responded to the challenge in a number of positive ways. Woodlawn UMC members took a good look at the community, and made some choices about what their ministries will look like in their next chapter. Some of the ministries are already in place, like the food pantry that has been operating for a number of years. Others will be new, like sports-related ministries and a community garden space.
"Our partnership with Cornerstone School influences many of these decisions," said Lacey. "We will be ministry partners in most of these projects." In particular, a basketball program is aimed at helping youth in the community. "We have outside ministries sending buses to Woodlawn to take the kids to play basketball in other neighborhoods. What does that say about our community? We hope to take steps that will instill pride in their own community."
As a symbol of their commitment to go deeper into the community, the new building is being constructed on 54th Street, on property owned by Cornerstone School, instead of using the old First Avenue location. The placement is intended to remind members that church is not only a showplace for a Sunday morning service, but that church is a worship service to send them out for service in the Woodlawn community and beyond.
While the new opportunities are exciting, Woodlawn UMC still has a strong sense of history. Some of the stained glass from the old sanctuary was salvaged for use in the new space. In addition, former Woodlawn UMC member Jinger Crouch Glasgow has designed a replica of the "Ascension Window" in the old sanctuary to adorn the new one. Local United Methodist Churches and individuals are invited to sponsor this new stained-glass window as a gift to Woodlawn. If you wish to be a part of this opportunity, contact Rev. Matt Lacey for details.
If the project stays on schedule, Woodlawn UMC and Cornerstone School will hold an Open House celebration in September. Their hope is that all United Methodist churches in the North Alabama Conference will celebrate with them as they enter a new phase of ministry. Visit www.woodlawnbham.com to stay up-to-date on the plans.
A joint project between the church and Cornerstone School, which has helped raise funds, the new building will house a 200-seat sanctuary, classrooms, a full-sized gymnasium and cafeteria facility to be utilized by the church, school and community at large. Cornerstone is a private, non-denominational Christian school which has shared space with Woodlawn UMC for several years.