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Gardendale FBC unveils new worship centercomment (0)

August 19, 2010

By Jennifer Davis Rash

It didn’t take long for the new sanctuary at Gardendale First Baptist Church (FBC) to reach its seating capacity. In fact, it moved just past that mark to standing-room only as the first service in the new building began Aug. 8.

That’s right 2,504 seats all taken. A 200-seat choir loft and 35-seat orchestra pit almost full. Some people sat on the floor, some stood along the back wall as the service began with baptisms. This was the official opening of the long-awaited new sanctuary, which almost doubles the size of the now retired sanctuary, and lots of people showed up.

But Pastor Kevin Hamm didn’t waste any time making sure the congregation and guests knew “this is not a pleasure palace.”

“We’ve been given a responsibility with this church to take the gospel across the street and across the ocean.

“This is not come and see, but go and do,” he said, noting the North Jefferson Baptist Association church has “done more with missions in 2010 than in the history of the church.”

“We’ve been all over the world ... to other states ... and in the local area,” Hamm said.

In fact, Gardendale FBC is currently reroofing the sanctuary and education building of a Methodist church in nearby Morris.

And Hamm doesn’t expect the church’s missions participation to slow down any time soon. All proceeds from the new Grounds for Missions Café in the church lobby go to missions. He also made sure those walking through the more than 100,000-foot worship and education center are reminded “what we are about” with a large sign noting the Great Commission. There’s also a large globe and Bible monument in front of the sanctuary and the now-famous 125-feet cross right off I-65 — “our foundational symbols.”

“This is not about the building and the seats,” Hamm said.  “We’ve got to herald the gospel from this place.”

But getting to this place has been a journey said Associate Pastor Mark Harrison, who has been at Gardendale FBC 16 years. “It is overwhelming to finally see it happen.”

The nearly $20-million building is a scaled-down version of where it started in 2001 when then-Pastor Steve Gaines launched the relocation effort. The 145 acres of land, known as the North Campus, was purchased about a mile from its now South Campus location. In 2003, three softballs fields and a soccer field were built. Then in 2005, Gaines was called to Bellevue Baptist Church, Cordova, Tenn.

Building plans were put on hold until Hamm, who came as pastor in 2006, and other church leaders determined it was time to move forward. “We didn’t want to rush through this and not think through it properly,” Hamm said.

And the plan now is to relocate, but it may take another nine years to get to the next phase, Hamm acknowledged.

Some church members don’t like the drawn-out relocation effort.

Some are concerned about the two campus-set up with all the preschool and children at the North Campus and the students, adults and worship at the South Campus. But Hamm said most members of the congregation are supportive.

With 3,400 in three worship services and 2,500 in Bible fellowship (or Sunday School) each week,  “we were running out of seats and parking spaces,” he said, noting the church was able to return to two worship services. “Now we can reach more.”

The South Campus has 1,800 parking spaces, a 250-seat conference room, a music suite and a state-of-the-art media suite. The sanctuary also was built with an expandable wall, allowing for another 1,500 seats if needed.

“There’s a sense of gratitude to the Lord and to a lot of folks who made it happen,” Hamm said. “We are standing on the shoulders of previous members, staff and pastors who were part of this. I even think of those who’ve gone on before us. They’ve paved the way for us to be here.”

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