WORTHINGTON — A four-year journey has come to a close — but the doors to American Lutheran Church’s new welcome center and remodeled sanctuary are wide open.
From 12:30 to 2:30 p.m. this Sunday, the public is invited to view the church’s completed addition and renovated worship space at 915 Winifred St., and church leaders couldn’t be happier to welcome one and all.
“We invite all community members to join us for the open house,” said ALC Pastor Gary Andersen. “These spaces are created for worship but were also designed for the possibility of satisfying other community gathering needs.”
Added ALC Council President Tara Thompson, “This is a time of celebration for the project completion, and a time for us to share our new and updated space with this community.”
A groundbreaking took place in September 2018, and by mid-summer ALC parishioners were able to once again fill the sanctuary — albeit one that had undergone significant changes.
“We flipped the sanctuary 90 degrees,” said Mike Stoll, ALC’s building committee chair. “It now faces east instead of south and has chairs instead of pews.
“Our goal was to make everyone feel closer to the altar and reduce the distance to the front of the church for those sitting near the back.”
But a revitalized sanctuary, which now seats 230, is only part of the ALC story.
The extensive project involved demolishing the church’s 1948 structure (which in recent decades had housed church offices) and constructing a new welcome center and office area facing eastward toward Winifred.
Other improvements included entryways without steps, a new interior elevator, an open, broad staircase leading to the lower level Sunday school classrooms and a flexible gathering space that can serve not only as a fellowship area before or after services but also as a private room for families at times such as funerals and weddings.
“What began as a desire to make the entire facility more accessible developed into a comprehensive plan to make it more welcoming,” said Andersen.
Stoll, who joined ALC shortly after a 1985 expansion added a fellowship hall and kitchen, observed that although change is always difficult, others had taken necessary steps to address church facility needs at critical junctures in the past, too.
“We had a very traditional sanctuary with pews and a long center aisle, but one of our primary responsibilities was to upgrade the sanctuary to enhance the intimacy of services,” said Stoll.
“The building committee [comprised of 13 members representing a cross-section of the congregation] was charged with making our building more welcoming, as well as brighter and more open, while addressing specific needs such as accessibility — including accessibility to services for parents with young children.”
Stoll credits their effort to involve people of all ages, genders and backgrounds in the planning process with the project’s ultimate success.
“We actively sought a variety of perspectives and input, and we were unified in working toward a common purpose,” said Stoll.
This project has been in the works for years, Stoll said; the first contract for a facilities analysis was signed in 2013. The same architectural firm (Miller Architects and Builders of St. Cloud) stuck with ALC from start to finish.
“That provided us with a lot of continuity,” said Stoll.
Preserving history while making old things new
Much effort was made to ensure that historic elements of the previous ALC structures were honored and preserved.
“The cornerstones from the 1948 and 1963 churches are inlaid in stone where the old building connects with the new,” cited Stoll as one example.
The eternal flame from the 1963 church still graces the altar of the updated sanctuary, and the stained glass — including the iconic Good Shepherd image — were retained. Pews — one each from the 1963 and 1948 churches — rest in the ALC entry halls, and wood from the 1963 sanctuary pews was repurposed into the new altar, baptismal font and lectern.
But today, contemporary warm gray tones are predominant in the gathering area — which also includes an inviting coffee bar — and throughout the entire office section. A comfortable and spacious conference room is available for church council and other committee meetings.
New lighting and state-of-the-art audio-visual equipment grace the sanctuary, while abundant windows provide natural light and a wide-open view in the fellowship/gathering space, which has a vaulted ceiling.
Special touches suggested by contractors and sub-contractors offer further enrichment, such as the cross built into the brick wall fronting the elevator outside the sanctuary that’s subtly illuminated with a canned spotlight, and the broadened steps leading to the music area that can now fill double-duty as choir risers.
“It’s hard sometimes to see the vision of what things can be,” said Steve Dudley, ALC Council vice president.
“But as a congregation, we’re either growing or falling behind, so we have to be open to change in order to be relevant both today and 30 years from now.”
Pastor Andersen concurred.
“Throughout this whole process, we recognized that other church leaders in the 1960s and 1980s had the foresight to create the spaces our congregation has enjoyed for many years, and it was time for the current congregation to anticipate the future and prepare for those who will come after,” said Andersen.
“We’re preparing Christ’s church to continue on in this place for years to come.”
Added Stoll, “We’ve had good feedback so far, with some people commenting, ‘I just couldn’t picture this — but I like it.’
“We’ve accomplished what we set out to do.”
Dudley observed, “We’re still working on the mission portion of our effort, but we have a sense of energy and of people coming together to accomplish good things.”
Urged Thompson, “Come check it out.”
The public is welcome to attend a free open house at American Lutheran Church, 915 Winifred, Worthington, from 12:30 to 2:30 p.m. Sunday. Tours, along with coffee and cookies, are complimentary.