Written by Laura Campbell Tuesday, 05 June 2007 16:30
It may have been officially called “Transition Sunday” a few days ago when members of Hillsboro Mennonite Brethren Church walked from the Brown Gymnasium at Hillsboro High School—their Sunday morning site of three-plus years—to their new $5-plus million building on the east edge of town.
But there’s another “T” word that will share the spotlight with transitioning this summer at HMBC: thanksgiving.
More than three years after the March 2004 fire that destroyed its Washington Street church building in the course of a Sunday afternoon, HMBC took its first official look at its new home at the close of its Sunday morning service.
On Entrance Sunday next week, it will celebrate its first full service in the sanctuary.
So will begin the next gratitude-filled phase in what church moderator Don Ratzlaff, who will speak at the 10 a.m. extended service June 10, said has been a challenging but rewarding journey for the congregation.
It’s a journey that has involved much more than just replacing one church building with another, Ratzlaff said.
“Even that wasn’t clear at first, because we had some out-of-the-box options that we had to process,” he said.
“Parkview (Mennonite Brethren) floated the possibility of us merging with them, Trinity (Mennonite) floated the possibility of us purchasing their building and some Tabor folks expressed interest in us building on their campus.
“So we had to work through all of that, which is one of the reasons we’re three-plus years in getting done.”
And while they ultimately settled on constructing a 40,000 square-foot building on an 11-acre campus at Prairie Pointe and C streets, the lengthy process took the congregation even deeper than practical decision-making into spiritual reflection.
“There was a need for us to somewhat rebuild ourselves and understand who we are as a people in terms of our vision,” Ratzlaff said.
“Personally speaking, I look back at the fire, and I think of it as a great blessing in a sense.
“Not that we wanted to lose our building, but it forced us to deal with issues that ultimately will be helpful—to us and our faith, but also in terms of service to the community.
“I think our hearts have changed as our building has changed—we’re developing a different orientation than we had before,” he continued.
“I just really sense there’s a new movement going on in the church that I find very exciting. We want to serve the community.”
One way that the church voted just this Sunday to use its new building to serve the community is through a daycare program that Ratzlaff said they hope to start up this fall.
The proposal is to provide a daycare and preschool for kids between 2 1/2 and 5 years old, to to begin with licensure for up to 24 children.
“I really feel good about it,” Ratzlaff said. “That’s such a need in our town, and it’s an opportunity for us to do something useful.”
Also new with the building will be new pastors—an interim pastor starting this summer and a permanent senior pastor within the next year or so.
After Bruce Porter completed his pastorate March 31, the church council decided to call on an intentional interim pastor to come for about a year until the newly formed search committee finds a permanent pastor.
William Damberg, currently living in Loveland, Colo., will visit the church June 10 and will begin his duties July 1.
“One thing that attracted us to him is that he’s done six intentional interim assignments elsewhere,” Ratzlaff said. “We were looking for that kind of experience.”
The new pastor and childcare program will enter a single-level building that planning committee chairman Darrell Driggers said is completely different from the former three-story site.
“The vision for this project that came out early on was that the main focus was a gathering space—then working from there to the various wings of the building, and to the fellowship hall and sanctuary,” Driggers said.
“We were really limited in our other facility in moving our members out of the sanctuary into the traffic—we were really crowded there.
“We now have a tremendous gathering space to flow people from the fellowship hall to the sanctuary or from the sanctuary to any part of (the building).”
And constructing the new building up to today’s commercial fire codes means that HMBC is unlikely to undergo the same tragedy twice.
“I wouldn’t say it’s a fireproof church, but there’s very little combustible material in that building,” Driggers said. “It’s a steel structure, with not only smoke detection but also sprinkler systems and an alarm system as well.
“It’s pretty standard for commercial grade.”
Driggers added that support for the new church building has been gratifying.
“In the last four or five months, we’ve seen just a tremendous enthusiasm for the building,” he said.
“We’ve come to realize that what we’ve done is right because we’ve had a good buy-in from the congregation.
“The committee has always been encouraged with the congregational support for the building.”
Because of similar support from the surrounding community during their journey, Ratzlaff said this summer will be dedicated as much to thanksgiving as to transition.
“We just feel this incredible sense of gratitude and indebtedness to a lot of people and to our community in general,” Ratzlaff said.
“Some of the events that we are planning for the summer are specifically intended to say ‘thank you’ to people.”
These people include those at Unified School District 410 for use of the high-school gymnasium as a “sanctuary.”
“I don’t even know where to begin to talk about Unified District 410—letting us use their building without charge for three-plus years,” Ratzlaff said. “You can’t even begin to ‘pay that back.’”
Ratzlaff added that they also want to thank First Mennonite for the use of its building for Wednesday-night activities, Trinity for the use of its building for funerals and Tabor College for use of its campus for church offices, for a while, and for council meetings.
“We are incredibly humbled by the kind of graciousness that has been offered from other churches and institutions,” he said.
Driggers added his own thank-yous to the mix, starting with his own planning committee and sub-committees.
“I have had great support from our committee, and it’s been a joy working with them,” he said.
“We’ve had different talents within that group, and I think it’s been a unified group.”
He also praised the work of their architectural and construction partners.
“It has been rewarding to have worked with our architect, Howard & Helmer, to have seen this project through with vision,” he said.
“And from Hutton (Construction’s) standpoint, their ability to move this project in a timely manner has been critical.
“It has been a long process, but the process was larger than just the building. The process was moving from a former site into a new site to be annexed and rezoned,” he continued.
“It could have probably been done quicker in the planning early on, but I don’t see how it could have been (quicker) once we got the architect involved and once we got the builder started.
“It’s just been a project that we’ve seen change and work toward completion in a weekly manner.”
Specific events for the summer have been planned by a Celebration Team to thank not only certain groups but the surrounding community as a whole.
Dedication Sunday is July 1, which will include a morning service at which district minister Tim Sullivan will speak, followed by what Celebration Team member Rita Bartel called an interactive open house.
“(There will be) events where the building’s being used—storytime in the library, music in the sanctuary, kids’ activities in the kids’ department,” she said.
Other events open to the public will be a seniors’ coffee on the morning of July 10 in the church fellowship hall and an evening with a bluegrass praise band July 21 in the sanctuary.
Emergency, fire and police personnel involved in fighting the March 2004 fire will be invited to a family hog roast on the evening of July 15.
The church events are planned not only to say thanks but to help people realize that the building is there, at least in part, to serve their needs, Bartel said.
“We see that the church is a gift—it’s just an instrument to be used by God,” she said.
“How can we use this facility to show God’s love and also give back to those that have given to us by using God’s building in a way that brings people together?
“Those are the (questions) that the Celebration Team had.”
Ratzlaff emphasized that both the June 10 and July 1 services are open to the community.
“The public is always invited to any service they want to come to, and these are no exception,” he said.
“The emphasis is really going to be just celebration—we’re excited.
“There’s a really good energy in the church right now.”
Look for more details, including times, for HMBC summer events in upcoming editions of the Free Press.