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Downtown Gastonia church holds consecration for new building addition
Gaston Gazette - 2/23/2020
Sixty-five years ago, Jack Clevenger took part in a ceremony to celebrate the construction of First United Methodist Church in downtown Gastonia.
He was still a working brick mason at the time, and would eventually play a key role in building the new sanctuary at 190 E. Franklin Blvd. But the main thing he remembers about the groundbreaking in 1955 is realizing he was functionally but woefully underdressed.
"We put the cornerstone in," said Clevenger, 98, who is still a member of the church. "They had all the bishops and important people around. They were all dressed up, and I had on a pair of overalls."
On Sunday, Clevenger cut the ribbon on a long-awaited new building addition during a consecration service at First United Methodist Church. And despite being a Navy veteran who served in World War II, he admitted to being a bit nervous on the Saturday evening before his big role.
"I stayed up all night," he said.
After ground was broken on the project in 2018, officials with the church had hoped the expansion of the Family Life Center would be finished by now.
Delays involving asbestos cleanup and other hurdles have pushed the expected completion date back until April 1, while the total cost of the project has exceeded the original projection of $5 million. But though it's still a working construction site, arrangements were made to go ahead with the scheduled consecration, which included a visit from Bishop Paul Leeland.
Following a traditional Sunday service, dozens of attendants filed through a hallway and into what will become the central gathering space within the church. Then after the consecration, they all dined together during a special luncheon.
The Rev. David Christy said the goals of the project have included creating a new, easily recognizable and welcoming entry into the church's multiple buildings, connecting the main sanctuary, Family Life Center and Wesley Center under one roof. It is also providing for new gathering space.
On top of that, the investment is providing for much-needed repairs and renovations to the main church facility, improving the security of the campus for children and adults, providing better accommodations for all church users, and enhancing hospitality and the potential for mission outreach throughout the city, he said.
"The members of this community will not only create a place of worship here," said Christy. "They'll use these facilities for community activities, as well as outreach. I think if you look at the services that are already done, this is just going to expand their capacity to actually serve the community."
Everything the church does is based on scripture, Christy said. And the building campaign was based on a passage from Ecclesiastes 4:12, "A three-fold cord is not easily broken." The mission was to honor the history of Gaston County textiles and the heritage of so many church members, with a theme of "weaving" the church and the community around Christ.
Sunday's ceremony was attended by Gastonia Mayor Walker Reid and a number of City Council members and other officials. Reid pointed out that for many years, First United Methodist Church's gathering spaces served almost like a conference center for the community before the city built its own.
"And I see now that you all have expanded and that you are a beacon in our downtown, and that's saying a lot," he said. "Speaking on behalf of the City Council, we would like to thank you for what you have done, what you are doing and what you are going to do to make our city one of the best places to live in the state of North Carolina."
Christy emphasized that this was truly about continuing First United Methodist Church's long investment in downtown Gastonia, and its commitment to putting down roots that will last for many years to come. He said the aim will be to use the new space to benefit everyone in the city, and not just everyday members of the church.
"Part of the Methodist history and movement has been to combine that sense of personal service and worship with social activism, social holiness, and social service," he said. "It's that wonderful balance that I think that our church is living up to."
You can reach Michael Barrett at 704-869-1826 or on Twitter @GazetteMike.
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