Enlarging God's house

Friday, December 10, 2004

Visitors to La Croix Church's new facility might think they've entered a performing arts center instead of a church sanctuary.

With stadium seating, flat-screen monitors, and high quality sound and lights, worship services at the Cape Girardeau church this weekend will be unlike most others in Southeast Missouri.

Ron Watts, pastor at the United Methodist church, admits the style of worship and the architecture of the building are unusual for this region. But the church has always been on the cutting edge.

La Croix began 16 years ago, meeting in rented space at the mall movie theater. Sunday school classes met in various locations around the shopping center until the church could build a new facility on Lexington Avenue. The church tries to be inviting and comfortable for people who haven't been to church before or who are returning after some time away.

Using the latest in technology and sound equipment lets the church "clearly communicate and focus on God's word as we bring the message of good news to the world," Watts said.

The new building -- at a cost of nearly $7 million -- let the congregation tailor its style of worship. There are no windows in the sanctuary because the light and outside noise could detract from the multimedia presentations, and the space is built in the round with stadium seating so everyone has a clear view of the stage.

"You could say the theater rubbed off on us," Watts said.

From the beginning of this construction project 15 months ago, the church knew it would be building a space unlike any other because of its desire for space devoted both to worship and performing arts.

The new addition gives the church triple the amount of space it had. The old worship center, which now will be used for children's ministry activities and worship, seated 350. The new sanctuary space seats 1,000.

The four weekend worship services will drop down to three starting Saturday. The grand opening services are at 5:30 p.m. Saturday and at 9:15 and 11 a.m. Sunday.

"Our biggest need was space," Watts said. "We run four services, and three of them are consistently crowded."

The construction also allows the church to move its offices, creating more space for storage and an office suite for the "worship arts," which are drama and musical presentations. The additional space allows the church to have a recording studio, video control room and bookstore. There's a prayer chapel and prayer garden as well.

A green room off the sanctuary will serve as a staging area for the people involved in dramas, special music or other multimedia presentations during worship. Now those people are off in another area of the church, and runners have to get them when it's time for them to enter the service.

"The expansion gives us new opportunities to reach the unchurched," said Dan Steska, executive director for the church.

The church has even used the construction project as a method of outreach to the crews working on the building. Each Wednesday, women from the church have cooked a plate lunch for the workers.

"We wanted to be good hosts to the workers who came," Watts said. "And we wanted to be a good witness of the church and to offer them a pleasant place to work."

All the employees and contractors who helped with the building will be recognized during a special reception at Saturday night's service.

Karl Westrich has been working on the new church facility since the dirt was hauled to the site. He can point out all the dirt he shaped to make sure every elevation was right and footings were correct for the foundation. He said nearly everything about the project has come together perfectly, unlike many other jobs he's worked on.

Westrich has begun attending La Croix since the construction project. He said the project "let me see the kind faces in the congregation, and everybody was so friendly it just made me want to come be part of it."

Because the new building is a little unfamiliar to members and visitors, 150 ushers and greeters will be on hand for weekend services. All the doors and parking areas will be color coded so everyone will know which parking lot they entered from and which door to exit, Steska said.

ljohnston@semissourian.com

335-6611, extension 126

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