By Jessica Brodie
SIMPSONVILLE—A little more than a year after fire destroyed its building, Advent United Methodist Church has broken ground on a new sanctuary.
And while it’s been a tough year, members and leaders say the church has managed to thrive and continue God’s work in spite of their challenges.
“It was like the church never missed a beat,” said Advent member Karen Schulz. “When tragedies happen, one of two things occurs. A church can turn inward and focus on what’s been lost and what it’s going to take to get back, or they can very responsibly go about their repairs while continuing the work of the church. I will never forget how, only a few weeks after the fire that took down the sanctuary and relocated the staff and the classrooms, 400 Advent members hit the streets to go do ministry through March Mission Madness, doing everything from feeding the hungry to providing housing.
“This church has really just inspired and amazed me.”
Indeed, Advent was dealt a difficult blow last year when, on Feb. 8, 2017, in the middle of a project to expand its sanctuary, a construction fire blazed through the building, demolishing it.
But in spite of the fire, the church hasn’t slowed down, said Associate Pastor the Rev. Laura-Allen Kerlin. They brought in more than 100 new members last year, their Christmas Eve attendance was they highest they’ve ever had, they held a huge 30th birthday celebration in the fall and had 400 people join in for March Mission Madness this and last year, they’re continuing to fund and build “bridge homes” (transition homes for families who are between emergency shelters and a permanent home), and thanks to a large Christmas Eve offering, they are building 10 wells and starting 10 churches in India through the Water of Life organization.
“We haven’t stopped doing any of the things we do,” Kerlin said.
Now, with their March 18 groundbreaking, the church is entering a new phase—construction—even while they continue their work to make disciples of Christ for the transformation of the world.
Kerlin said crews are grading the site now. They hope to have the expansion complete by Easter 2019.
At the time of last year’s fire, the church was expanding the sanctuary, plus building a connection between the sanctuary and education center. That is still the plan, Kerlin said, though now the expansion will accommodate even more people than was initially planned, and it might even create more efficiency, as they are now doing the work to one big building rather than connecting three different structures.
They are also renovating their existing education building, adding a children’s worship center and making it “much more kid-friendly,” Kerlin said. The education renovation should take far less time and be complete by the time school starts in the fall.
For now, the church continues to worship in the gymnasium, which now includes carpeting, curtains, a stage and a wide glass entryway. The staff operates out of offices off the gym, and the massive wooden cross that had been hanging in the old sanctuary and miraculously survived the fire, is now hanging in front and center of the worship space.
“It’s been a challenge in a lot of ways, but in some ways it’s been a fun opportunity. Obviously, in a season where everything is different, it gives you license to try new things because we have to,” Kerlin said.
Advent pastor the Rev. Michael Turner has preached throughout the past year on how the church is so much more than its building. While the sanctuary burned down, Christ is their cornerstone, and a fire cannot stop the work of the Lord in them and through them. A year after the fire, Advent held a prayer service to commemorate what they’ve dubbed their “#AdventStrong anniversary.” Members were invited to go to the fence around the area where the sanctuary used to be and tie a ribbon on the fence as the congregation offered prayers of thanksgiving—and prayers of blessing on what is to come.
Their eyes are turned toward the future, and as Turner preached the Sunday after the fire, “Not even the gates of hell could prevail against us.”
For more on Advent: www.advent-umc.org.