By Holly McCray
Wiggly children with toy shovels replaced the usual lineup of dignitaries when Edmond-First UMC broke ground Oct. 21 on a building expansion project.
Encircling the kids, some members happily recorded the moment on cellphones. Others joined in the big dig by wielding decorated full-size shovels.
"May a building rise here where multitudes can be refreshed in spirit, relieved from pain … and have a sense that they belong," read Lay Leader Randall Stoner from the worship litany.
A capital campaign that began in May has raised $1.8 million in pledges.
The project is rooted in the church’s Strategic Plan, explained Senior Pastor Bertha Potts in an interview. Over several years, Edmond-First has explored options to become more effective in ministry. Embracing their long history at the corner site, 305 E. Hurd, the people identified "a great niche" as a church grounded in what it means today to be traditional, the pastor said.
"They understand who they are. They have decided to be in this place and to transform the world," said Rev. Dr. Potts.
Change began by repurposing and refreshing interior spaces throughout and doing exterior work on the existing church. Associate Pastor Don Vaught observed concurrent updating by First Church’s neighbors.
"For instance, when we reroofed, they did," he said.
The historic, three-story church faces south. Behind it sets the separate, large Christian Activity Center (CAC). The new construction will extend the main building to the southwest, and blend with the original architecture. Features will be a multipurpose room with stage, large gathering area, portico, and elevators.
"We are busting out at the seams on Sundays," Rev. Vaught said. "We have lots of small groups, organically grown. Every available space is being used."
A fourth worship service has been added. On Thursday evenings, activities of the Wesley Foundation at the University of Central Oklahoma fill both main building and CAC.
To accommodate the expansion, a building was demolished that formerly housed the Wesley Foundation. The campus ministry moved into two houses, also church property, across the street. First Church members carried out major renovation work on them. Campus minister Gerard Nsabimana expressed great enthusiasm about the outreach enhanced by the move.
Potts summarized the building plans for both church and campus ministry and the "belonging ministries" therein.
One recent Sunday, a video with Korean subtitles aired in worship. The pastor had decided the visual content was valuable for the service, although she doubted anyone could read the subtitles.
Among the worshippers that day was a Korean man. He now attends First Church. "He told me he knew God meant for him to be there," Potts said.
"God is at work here in ways I don’t even understand. There is delightful diversity," she said. "The youth are learning how to lead. The laity are unified; they have decided we have to have renewal."