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Published: Saturday, 5/10/2008

Local churches build on faith in new sanctuaries

The Rev. Rich Ferne in the new sanctuary of Community of Christ Lutheran Church in Whitehouse. The Rev. Rich Ferne in the new sanctuary of Community of Christ Lutheran Church in Whitehouse.
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Even as workmen scramble to put the finishing touches on the projects, members of two area churches are getting ready to celebrate moving into their new sanctuaries with special services this weekend.

Community of Christ Lutheran Church, on Finzel Road in Whitehouse, will hold a dedication service for its 8,300-square-foot addition, while members of Unity United Methodist Church in Northwood are inviting friends and family to join them for a Mother's Day celebration in their new 12,300-square-foot facility.

Community of Christ has been holding services in a multi-purpose room for more than 30 years, said the Rev. Rich Ferne, pastor for the last 8 1/2 years.

"We've been in this building since 1977," Mr. Ferne said. "This is the original mission congregation. We were always setting up and taking down chairs."

Unity Methodist Church in Northwood has planned a Mother's Day celebration. Unity Methodist Church in Northwood has planned a Mother's Day celebration.
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He said the church was started by five families, but two of those families dropped out almost immediately. Today, Community of Christ has an average attendance of about 280 and Whitehouse is one of the fastest-growing Toledo suburbs.

"This is a growing area, of course, and so the congregation is growing and we simply outgrew the old building," Mr. Ferne said.

The first pastor, the Rev. Ray Gottschling, returned to Community of Christ last weekend to lead the last service in the old building.

The new sanctuary features lots of natural light flowing through skylights and large windows on the walls. "You hardly need to turn the lights on," Mr. Ferne said.

The Rev. Kenneth Dantzler inside the United Methodist Church at 1910 East Broadway in Northwood. The Rev. Kenneth Dantzler inside the United Methodist Church at 1910 East Broadway in Northwood.
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In addition to the sanctuary, the new construction includes a large gathering space, nursery, kitchen, coat room, lounge and library, office suites, storage areas, 42-inch flowing baptismal font, and a soon-to-be installed 21-rank pipe organ.

While the new space was being added, about a third of the church's existing facility was renovated, Mr. Ferne said.

The modern architectural style of the new building was designed by The Collaborative, Inc., and construction was handled by Willson Builders.

The congregation began planning for the new construction in 2002.

The sanctuary will seat more than 300 people and worshippers will sit in "pew chairs," which are single, double, and triple sections that can be joined together in flexible arrangements. The normal set-up will feature the pew chairs in a semi-circular setting, Mr. Ferne said.

The $2.8 million project will more than double the size of the church, from 7,500 to a 15,800 square feet.

Bishop Marcus Lohrmann and the Rev. Marc Miller, assistant to the bishop, will take part in dedication services at 8 and 10 a.m. tomorrow at the church, 6517 Finzel Rd., Whitehouse.

Unity's new building is set on 9.2 acres at 1910 East Broadway in Northwood, just over the line from East Toledo and its previously home on Oakdale Avenue.

The new building cost about $1.5 million, according to the Rev. Kenneth Dantzler, associate pastor.

"It's a modern and very efficient design, and it's very handicapped accessible," he said.

The average attendance for Saturday and Sunday services is a combined 180, Mr. Dantzler said.

The congregation, which consists of four United Methodist churches that were merged together, moved into the new building last week.

It was an emotional time for members of Unity, Mr. Dantzler said.

"It was exciting. It was spirit-filled," he said. "It's been a shared vision since the four congregations came together. I have said that they've been working on God's economy of abundance, because if you would look at the size of the congregation and the number of worshippers we have here, you would say, 'How could a church of that size accomplish what they have?' I say it's nothing but God working in the midst of us, providing for us and enabling us to achieve what we have achieved."

Unity's pastor, the Rev. Larry Keeler, recently announced that he will retire soon from full-time ministry and leave Unity and serve part-time as pastor of Zion United Methodist Church in Elliston, Ohio, about 15 miles southeast of Unity.

Mr. Dantzler said he and Mr. Keeler have a shared vision of making Unity a multicultural congregation. The associate pastor founded and runs U-Turn Fellowship, a "church within a church" that meets at Unity on Saturday afternoons.

He said the members of Unity and U-Turn Fellowship want to continue to be an urban congregation even though the new site is in the suburbs. The church plans to continue its food pantry and other inner-city outreaches, and will run a bus service to pick up residents in its former East Toledo neighborhood and bring to the new church.

Unity is planning a Friends and Family service at 10:30 a.m. tommrrow and a Consecration Service on May 18 with the Rev. Rae Lynn Schleif, district superintendent, and the Rev. Bob Ball, former district superintendent.

More information is available by calling the church, 419-693-5170.

- David Yonke

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