As sunshine streamed through the tall glass doors of Clifton Presbyterian Church's new fellowship hall, Sunday morning, the congregation sang "Come Sing, O Church, in Joy!"
It had much to celebrate, for that was the first service held in the new addition to this lovely, historic church. And that's where the members will continue to worship until mid-January, when the renovation of the sanctuary is complete.
Clifton Presbyterian was built in 1872 and added onto in the 1950s, but it eventually needed more room for its programs, meetings and services. So in June 2005, it broke ground on a $3 million addition and renovation.
THE NEW fellowship hall is 50 percent larger than the old one and contains space for offices and classrooms. And the sanctuary will be enlarged and its seating increased and reoriented.
On Sunday, as the younger children sat together on a patchwork quilt on the floor of the fellowship hall, Pastoral Assistant Bonnie Davis talked with them about growth.
She explained that, just like they need larger clothes each year because they get bigger, "so this church needed a larger place for all the things it does, and so everyone in it may worship, eat and celebrate together." Davis then led them in a prayer, saying, "Dear Jesus, thank you for this wonderful new church and thank you for our growing church."
Then, after the Rev. Lynn Stanton-Hoyle gave her sermon, she read excerpts from what members of the congregation had written when she asked them why they were thankful for this church. One person wrote that "the warmth and welcome of the church has been a blessing." Others spoke of the prayers and comfort they'd received in times of loss.
Some recalled happy memories of Christmas pageants, baptisms and weddings, and several were grateful for "the closeness of the members and the friendships made." One said the new building would enable them to have more of a chance to help others. "This church is my second home — it's become a part of me," wrote another.
Then Stanton-Hoyle paid homage and gave thanks "to God, to all those in the church who came before and for the ministry that will touch the lives of the future generation." After the service came a short program in celebration of the opening of the new fellowship hall.
"Now today we begin our new chapter in the life of this church, and we start our ministry in this new facility," said Stanton-Hoyle. "We give thanks ... to everyone who's made this possible and that God has brought us to this day."
She also thanked the building-committee members and their chairman Mark Reimers, as well as several other committees whose members toiled many hours to bring this project to fruition.
NEXT CAME a PowerPoint presentation called "Touching Tomorrow Today — Our New Ministry Begins," depicting the groundbreaking and start of construction, plus Clifton Presbyterian's mission and community-help projects, Christian education programs, outreach and fellowship, worship services, preschool classes and the future Clifton Senior Friends Club.
Then Stanton-Hoyle prayed, again thanking God and asking Him to "provide us with Your new vision for us for the days and months ahead." Afterward, church members enjoyed lunch and toured the new addition.
"It is amazing — really a gift," said Davis. "The energy level this morning and sense of family, camaraderie and faith community is powerful. You can feel it. The nice thing about this church is that it's not insular; this sense of family and community embraces everyone."
Member Bette Petersen baked and decorated a special cake for the occasion and, as she served it to the others, she spoke of her family's history at Clifton Presbyterian. "My mother-in-law, Ruth Petersen, was head of the music ministry here and helped keep the doors open," she said. "And my husband Jim is now the longest member here — 43 years."
She said Ruth Petersen was on the building committee for the first fellowship hall. "She passed away a year-and-a-half ago, and the new choir room is named in her honor," said Bette Petersen. As for the new fellowship hall, she said, "It's gorgeous, it's breathtaking — I can't get over how beautiful it is."
She also pointed out a circular, stained-glass window, royal blue with a jeweled cross in the center, that now adorns the interior of the new sanctuary. It's a memorial to member Grace Prentice Millen who died in 1964 and was copied from a similar window in a famous cathedral.
It's also noteworthy because it was previously only visible from the outside of the church. But now, in the course of the sanctuary renovation, it's been uncovered so it may also be seen from inside. And, said Petersen, "We're all so excited about it."
Her husband Jim said the building project is a wonderful chance for the church to expand and better serve the community in general. Looking back at his four decades in this church, while eyeing the future, he said, "It's been such a part of my life all these years that this is another step, another chapter, another opportunity."