JERSEY SHORE - Long-time members of St. John Evangelical Lutheran Church can remember a lot happening within the walls of the facility. Thousands of people have passed through the doors of the red brick house of worship.
But perhaps one of the most exciting things to take place in living memory has been the completion of a make-over to the downstairs and the addition of a new elevator.
For those who haven't visited the church in a while, now might be the time to return and see what's new.
KIM MOERSCHBACHER/THE EXPRESS
The new addition to St. John Evangelical Lutheran Church holds a ramp and the new elevator, which stretches from the basement to the top floor where the sanctuary is. The elevator was part of the Rising Anew campaign.
St. John’s brand new kitchen was part of the recent remodeling project. The kitchen, along with the joining adult Sunday School room, is used for breakfast gatherings and many church functions.
Work was wrapped up recently with the addition of lines painted on the parking lot, and the dedication ceremony for the big project will take place Sunday, Nov. 6 during the church's 10:30 a.m. service. A meal will follow.
The project has been 20-plus years in the making, so to speak.
"I know building an elevator had been talked about for so many years before I came, and I've been here for 10 years," Rev. Kerry Aucker said. "I think it has been a wonderful thing how everything came together. Not only do we now have three handicapped bathrooms upstairs and downstairs, but we have a new nursery and a new kitchen with brand-new appliances. It has all new cabinets and equipment and a storage closet. We didn't have any of that before. We also have a new parking lot.
"The elevator makes all floors of the church accessible," he added. "The access to the sanctuary was needed by so many people, and we have that now."
Access to the upstairs sanctuary was limited to stairs and a single chair lift, and members of the congregation began talking a long time ago about adding an elevator so the sanctuary would be open to anybody.
The downstairs kitchen and Sunday School room- used to serve breakfast and for multiple church functions and gatherings - was desperately in need of a make-over.
With the help of church members and intense planning by council members and an elevator committee, the Rising Anew project was put into motion last year. Members have electronically donated money to help build up the project fund, and a loan through the Mission Investment Fund was given to the church to help finance the remainder of the work needed.
The total cost of the project is $750,000.
"There was an elevator committee already in existence before I came to the church," Rev. Aucker said. "They met on a regular basis. The church council and elevator committee came together, and people came in from the Mission Investment Fund to talk about financing the project. There was also an elevator task force in place. They picked out things such as the colors for the new carpet and walls. Then there was a meeting with the congregation also. The congregation has given nothing but praise. There has been so much congregational support."
The manual labor was done by Lundy Construction, but the spiritual work was guided by members of the church who pulled together to make sure everything was in place for each step.
The elevator, which goes from the basement to the top sanctuary floor, was added to the exterior of the building, in the parking lot. A door accesses it from the newly-paved lot, which was made bigger by the demolition of a neighboring house.
The elevator shaft was pieced together, and the work seemed to go slowly to those eagerly awaiting the chance to use it. Brick was laid for it in the spring when the weather began to warm and the clouds parted to make way for some sunshine. The inspection went off without a hitch, and a few months ago, the elevator began shipping people one floor up to worship.
Also in the Rising Anew project, the children's nursery and the church office switched spaces, and the adult Sunday school room got a complete make-over along with the kitchen.
Brand-new appliances now sit in place of the old ones in the kitchen, and the bigger space makes it much easier for church members to hold functions with equipment that is up to date and meets standards. A new carpet was installed, and a ramp now allows people with disabilities to enter the room from inside the building, instead of having to use the Thompson Street entranceway.
Through all the dust, the bumps in the financial road and the time it took to complete, the Rising Anew project has brought church members closer. As always, prayer was a powerful tool to help complete the task of renovating the church, one member noted.
The church was established in 1867. Fifty-five years ago, it went through its first big overhaul with the addition of the upstairs Sunday school rooms.
Soon, the next step in making St. John bigger and better will come full term as its members gather to say thanks.
"I have been amazed at how positive people have been toward the project," Rev. Aucker said. "It is a major step forward for this church. There are a lot of congregations struggling right now, and St. John is one of the few in the area that is still going strong. It just shows that people can do anything as a group if they have faith and work together. Remodeling allows the future generations that come through the building to have the best things they can work with. That is very important.
"We welcome everyone to join us at the dedication ceremony at our service," he added. "We will celebrate with a meal afterward. I invite and encourage everyone to attend."