Asbury celebrates opening of new sanctuary

NORTH SHELBY – Asbury United Methodist Church invited the community to join in celebrating the opening of its new sanctuary with a weekend full of events.

The church hosted an Open House Weekend March 17-18 with a pancake breakfast, #AsburyEggstravaganza, tours of the new facility, worship services and food trucks.

Like the rest of the Open House Weekend, the pancake breakfast that kicked off the festivities was free and open to the public.

Each of the 32 tables in the church gymnasium that provided seating for the breakfast was decorated by a small group, Asbury Communications Coordinator Amy Gonzalez said, with winners of the tablescapes competition being recognized with gift cards, catered meetings and more.

#AsburyEggstravaganza, also on March 17, included an Easter egg hunt with 6,000 eggs, rides and carnival games.

Asbury’s Shepherd’s Ministry for children with special needs set up a tent with bubbles, stress balls and more.

Members and guests toured the 50,000-square foot addition to the church and its amenities.

The centerpiece of the addition is a new sanctuary that accommodates 1,000 people—about double the size of the previous sanctuary—with an expandable design that could allow for 200 more seats.

Asbury’s pastor, the Rev. Kip Laxson, said the addition is the culmination of strategic planning that began about five years ago and that Open House Weekend was one of the biggest events in church history.

“We can’t think of a better way to celebrate this momentous occasion than to invite our community to join us,” Laxson said. “Asbury is a growing, thriving church, and we’ve outgrown our current space. Our new sanctuary doubles the size of our church and we will have room for everyone to come and worship—no matter who you are or where you’re from.”

Laxson said many people have called Asbury, and even stopped him around town, to ask about the church as they have seen the construction, and Open House Weekend was important to not only allow members a preview of the facility but also showcase it to the public.

“We’re a traditional church for progressive people, and open to all,” he said.

The sanctuary’s stained glass windows depict the Holy Communion, Resurrection and Baptism, and were created with glass from Germany, Poland and France as well as Indiana, West Virginia and Washington.

A new 4 Manual Rodgers Infinity Organ delivers the tonal resources of a pipe organ costing more than $2 million, and the sanctuary is wedding-friendly, with private quarters for brides and grooms.

The sanctuary also includes separate rooms for preparing communal elements and floral arrangements.

Below the new sanctuary, on the first floor of the church, a music suite was constructed with dedicated handbell and choir practice rooms, and separate men’s and women’s robing rooms.

The addition allowed for several other changes at the church, including the adult and youth suites trading spaces.

The adult suite now has two large classrooms—one accommodating up to 80 people—as part of the expansion, while the youth suite is being renovated to provide a modern space.

Once work is completed later this spring, the youth suite will include a 125-seat program/worship area, hang out space, office space and small group rooms.

Along with the completion of the youth suite renovations, a remodeled food pantry will open in the lower level with its own entrance.

The former primary sanctuary, which has been named Williams Chapel in honor of founding pastor Mitchell Williams, will be renovated beginning in April.

Williams Chapel will house The Bridge, a contemporary worship service, with about 300 seats replacing the pews, updated flooring and the addition of high-definition projectors and retractable screens.

Williams Chapel will also serve as multipurpose space for special events.

Asbury hosted the first worship services in its new sanctuary on March 18, and afterward several local food trucks were on hand to serve attendees: Off the Hook, Cantina, City Bowls, Eugene’s Hot Chicken and Big Spoon Creamery.

Open House Weekend attendees also had the opportunity to participate in one of Asbury’s most impactful mission initiatives: Brown Bag.

This is the seventh year Asbury has packed lunches for Birmingham students in need, and more than 40,000 students have received lunches to sustain them during spring and fall breaks, when school-provided meals are unavailable.

Brown Bag contributions from Asbury’s church family have totaled more than $500,000.

“Feeding the hungry is reason enough to participate year after year, but we also do it because we have to live for Christ and this is one way we can send the heart of Asbury to those who need it most,” Missions in Action Committee and Organizer Ralph Ritter said.

On March 17, volunteers unpacked boxes of food, stuffed the bags and loaded trucks that will deliver the lunches to area schools.