Arborlawn UMC opens new doors

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The tower in the center of Arborlawn United Methodist Church’s new worship center lights up the sky like a beacon. The light is the signal that the church has obtained its occupancy certificate for the new 46,000-square-foot facility at 5001 Briarhaven Road.

Arborlawn members will gather for worship in the new sanctuary on Sunday, Aug. 28, but the church will hold a community open house on Thursday, Sept. 8, from 6 to 8 p.m. The public is invited to explore the new facilities and meet the people of Arborlawn.

The church has spent more than three years working out every detail that has gone into the final design.

“The building is designed to tell a story,” said the Rev. Ben Disney, senior minister. “We wanted to remind everyone where we have come from and pay our respects for those who came before us as we forge a new path into the future.”

The design mixes the traditional with today’s technology. Flat screen televisions sit above ancient church symbols and stained glass from chapels used by the two combined congregations that now make up Arborlawn.

Arborlawn was founded when the Central Methodist Church moved from Lipscomb Street to Overton Park in 1969. Westcliff UMC combined with Overton Park UMC to create Arborlawn in 2005. The current sanctuary, which can hold up to 700, soon reached 85 percent capacity.

The new larger chapel will seat 1,200 and traditional services will be held there at 8:45 and 11 a.m. Sunday mornings.

The new auditorium is significantly brighter than the former sanctuary. Specially designed column-shaped lamps hang from the ceiling. The church’s symbol, a large vined cross, seems to float right above the chancel area.

“We wanted to create a space where your eyes were automatically drawn up,” Disney said. “We felt there ought to be one place in everyone’s life where you walk in and feel a sense of transcendence.”

Construction is still going on as workers finish the final touches to the choir section of the main sanctuary.

There will actually be two sanctuaries. A smaller room for 275 has been set aside for alternative worship services that will start Sundays at 11:11 a.m. Called “InSearch,” these services are grounded in the traditional understanding of worship, but combine contemporary music with an authentic and practical message.

The two worship spaces are close, but the church has made sure ample sound barriers will be in place so one service will not interfere with the other.

While the two groups may be separate during services, everyone will have an opportunity to come together in the large connecting commons at the center of the new facility. The cross from the former chapel has already been moved to the commons main wall. A large triquetra has been laid into the center of the floor, a symbol representing the Father, Son and Holy Ghost.

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