'Catalyst For Ministries'

Asbury UMC To Start $4.1 Million Renovation Next Month

Posted: July 19, 2014

One Harrisonburg centenarian is on her way to receiving a complete makeover: Asbury United Methodist Church.

The circa-1913 red stone sanctuary that sits at 205 S. Main St., at the downtown corner confluence of Bruce Street, and the connected red brick area added in 1954 have some serious renovations slated, with a total price tag of $4.1 million.

The church is in the middle of a major, $750,000-window restoration project for its more than 100 stained glass windows, but it’s taking a break from that to start on other improvements, according to the Rev. Stephen Hay, senior pastor of the church.

When he started in July 2013, he walked into a church that had been planning renovations for several years. In fact, it was not the previous pastor, who was at the church for four years, but the minister before her who started the building committee.

“The committee’s been working, revising, downsizing and dividing the project into parts for six years,” Hay explained.

The church is investing in infrastructure, ministry enhancement and strategic upgrades.

“Why we’re doing this is to serve the next generation,” Hay said. “We see this space as a gift and a responsibility. The church deliberately chose to be a downtown church. …  This place is loved. …  We want  it to look loved.”

Breaking Ground
Last night, the church held a groundbreaking ceremony for the first sequence of the $4.1 million first phase of the project, the fundraising campaign for which is dubbed “Catalyst for Ministries.” Vacation Bible school students — some of whom call Asbury their home church, others unchurched or from other congregations — were slated to do the honors, symbolizing that the project will benefit future generations, and not just those who attend Asbury.

According to John Mather, principal architect on the project and the owner of Mather Architects in Harrisonburg, Phase 1 will involve renovating Slaven Hall, a fellowship hall, to give it more flexibility in use, and the kitchen facilities, adding a handicap-accessible elevator to the exterior, and upgrading the heating and cooling systems. The first phase also includes cutting through a section of a stone wall in the middle of the older building to allow better flow and visibility, and relocating and renovating an area for the music suite, among other endeavors.

Phase 1 has been broken into two sequences, the first of which will include installing the elevator and reconfiguring the church’s offices, Hay said. He expects Harman Construction, Inc. of Harrisonburg to start work on the project in early August, as soon as the church receives the proper permits from the city.

That sequence will cost roughly $620,000, Hay said.

“We have almost all the money for Sequence 1, but we’ll be fundraising for the remaining $3.5 million,” he explained.


Looking Ahead
Sequence 2 will start even as the first sequence is ongoing, he added, but the church will pay off Phase 1 before starting on the second phase.

Sequence 2 involves the Slaven Hall upgrades, including adding showers for homeless guests who stay at the church through Open Doors, the rotating shelter hosted by local congregations every winter. The church will also add an industrial laundry unit to better assist those guests. Those additions will be useful for youth groups who stay at the church, as well, Hay said.

“It will be reconfigured to house community theater and contemporary worship, along with fellowship meals and youth activities,” he explained. “The core purpose of our building, our education space here, is twofold: One is to help us make disciples for Christ and the second is to serve the community.”

Hay is hoping that construction on the entirety of Phase 1 will only take about a year.

Plans for Phase 2, construction for which isn’t expected to start for at least another five years, are still being determined.


Next Focus
“I figure we have essentially five years after we get started with this to pay off this $4.1 million goal,” he said. “Toward the end of that five years, then we can refocus.”
The church has other projects it’s working on: finishing the window restoration, for one, and an effort to restore a bell tower on the north corner of the sanctuary building. Currently in the design phase, that project is being funded in part by a church member in memory of his father.

“There was a steeple there, originally,” Mather said. “If you look in very, very old photographs, you’ll see it. I don’t know why it disappeared.”

The firm is working on designs to recreate that steeple and incorporate functional bells.


A Downtown Church
That’s all in the future, though. As for the current project, “We think it dovetails really well into the exciting things that are happening up at City Hall,” said Mather, whose firm is also contracted for that project taking place only a few doors down from Asbury.

In addition to the ongoing efforts spearheaded by Plan Our Park to create a downtown park in the Turner Pavilion area, “We see three really positive things happening just right in that downtown block,” Mather said. “Each one, and all together, will all be just a huge enhancement to our city.”

He pointed out that the city’s Municipal Building was upgraded in 1908, “so, a lot was happening in that first decade of the 20th century.” That space was created using limestone, likely from local quarries, while Asbury’s sanctuary building is made of red stone, probably from Ohio, he said.

“It’s sort of like every 100 years, this update [is] happening,” he said.

According to materials used for Asbury’s fundraising campaign, the church is “the oldest religious organization in Harrisonburg,” having been around for more than 225 years.
“Since the original log church structure was built in the 18th century at our current location, members of Asbury have shown their commitment and leadership to the community,” one pamphlet reads. “Now, in our third century, the time has come to invest in our next great project.”

The church is partnering with The Community Foundation of Harrisonburg and Rockingham County for the campaign.

Contact Candace Sipos at 574-6275 or csipos@dnronline.com

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