Kansas congregation moves into new sanctuary

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New worship center dedicated in prayer

by Myra Holmes

Moving day is an exciting time, especially when the spacious new “home” has been long dreamed about. So it’s not surprising that as the congregation of First MB Church, Wichita, Kan., celebrated their new worship center in March, excitement filled the air. “Everyone was terribly excited,” says pastor Brent Warkentin, “the God-is-great kind of excitement.”

Technically, the new facility is not a completely new home but what the church newsletter, with tongue in cheek, calls a “little remodeling.” The nearly $6 million project includes a new 24,000-square-foot worship center as well as significant renovations to the lobby and nursery areas.

First MB has been waiting some 20 years to build the worship center, holding services in the activity center until the time was right. And when the time was right, the project went remarkably well. Giving to the project is ahead of schedule, despite the economic downturn. “The generosity has continued to be a real blessing,” Warkentin says. And the congregation was able to move in ahead of schedule—not always the case with big construction projects.

Warkentin credits the smooth sailing in part to a congregation willing to wait for unity and God’s timing: “God has graced this congregation with the right time and the right leadership to bring this together. Clearly one lesson is ‘Don’t rush God’s timing.’”

In hindsight, Warkentin says the right project partners had something to do with the smooth sailing, too. Although the congregation didn’t intentionally seek out Christian-owned companies to work with, both the contractor and architect are “devout Christian men” who viewed the project as a ministry, not just another job. Warkentin describes a spirit of cooperation and unity as they worked together.

The new worship center will be used “the same way anyone uses a worship center,” says Warkentin. “We just want to reach more people, so we need more seats.”

The congregation chose to dedicate the new facility prior to the March 7 move-in day in order to keep the Sunday focus on worship. It is, after all, a worship center.

So some 650 people, including children and youth from the midweek programs, gathered March 3 to dedicate the building in prayer. Notably lacking from the dedication were any formal recognitions or ceremonies about blueprints or keys. Instead, after Scripture reading, a brief meditation and a hymn, families scattered to simply pray. Stations were set up throughout the building with guidelines and suggestions.

“It was a beautiful thing,” Warkentin says. “Families were sitting in corners; they were up on the stage; they were over by the baptistery; they were over by the entrances. We had big numbers scattered throughout.”

The first services in the new worship center, then, looked pretty much like any other Sunday morning, “as much as you can have a regular Sunday service on the morning of the fulfillment of a dream.”

There were nods to the new building: Those who lent their expertise to the fulfillment of the dream, such as the MB Foundation, were recognized. Attendance was up, due to mailings, invitations and curiosity, with about 1300 people in the three services.

But the focus of each service was squarely on the church’s vision for reaching their community and world. That vision, Warkentin notes, hasn’t changed. “We’re just meeting in a bigger room; that’s the only difference.”

He adds, “We believe that because of our step of faith, God’s going to make that bigger room necessary.”

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