This article was originally published by Mennonite World Review

Kansas congregation celebrates building expansion

LAWRENCE, Kan. — Anne Bailey had waited for years for the moment on Aug. 12 when Peace Mennonite Church dedicated its expanded building, filling worshipers with goose-bump awe over the lively acoustics.

As harmonies rose upward, she and the choir stood on the concrete floor, painted with a labyrinth — a circular maze with no dead ends, one entrance and one exit. Used for contemplative walking and praying, labyrinths symbolize journeying through life’s complications with a spirit that is open and listening to God.
Indeed, the decision to expand and renovate the building, rather than build or buy elsewhere, was long and complicated.

Joanna Harader, pastor of Peace Mennonite Church in Lawrence, Kan., speaks to the congregation Aug. 12 in the new sanctuary, which features a labyrinth on the floor. — Laurie Oswald Robinson for MWR
Joanna Harader, pastor of Peace Mennonite Church in Lawrence, Kan., speaks to the congregation Aug. 12 in the new sanctuary, which features a labyrinth on the floor. — Laurie Oswald Robinson for MWR

Valuing simplicity and environmental stewardship, the 60-plus-member congregation decided not to lay carpet. To avoid an industrial feel, they hired an eco-friendly company, EnnisArt, to stain the concrete and create a labyrinth on the sanctuary floor. Without a floor covering, the sounds of song resonate fully.

“God speaks to me in music, and today it felt like the Holy Spirit poured down upon us and among us,” Bailey said. “Christ is with us wherever two or three gather in his name anywhere, though this is a very special space. I have longed for this day for years.”

Bailey was not alone in this longing, nor in being part of the prayer, consensus, hard work, cooperation and generosity that has culminated in joy. The congregation raised $275,000 ($25,000 more than the goal) for the $400,000 project.

“Frankly, I was really shocked that we were able to raise the amount of money that we did,” said member Rod Hofer.

Groundbreaking was April 8, after which the congregation met at a local Baptist church.

The expansion doubled the building’s space and includes a sanctuary, kitchen and a wheelchair-accessible bathroom.

Prior to its purchase by Peace Mennonite in 2001, the building was an Odd Fellows lodge house. Before that, the congregation rented space on the University of Kan­sas campus.

The remodeling includes the addition of Sunday school classrooms, a pastor’s study and administrative office, library, nursery and a quiet space.

A wider welcome

Peace Mennonite hopes the enlargement will expand the congregation’s capacity to welcome newcomers and deepen its roots in the soil of peacemaking and service, said Pastor Joanna Harader.

This vision is part of the congregation’s Growing Peace project.

“People have given so much time and energy, and people stepped up and used gifts that are part of a different skill set than is needed in other ministries,” she said. “This created a broader ownership of Peace Mennonite’s mission. . . .

“Previously, the children met for Sunday school in the old kitchen. And adults rarely had Sunday school because they had to arrange to meet in people’s homes. My old office was right off the nursery. There were times when I was having intimate conversations with people that parents had to walk through my office to get to their children.”

Closer relationships

Church moderator Jenny Welch Buller was excited about how the building process pushed the church to engage with the neighborhood association and city officials. That led the congregation into a more missional mindset.

“We learned to be better citizens, and we are growing in relationship to our neighbors,” Buller said. “With every challenge we faced, we had another opportunity to strengthen those relationships.”

Part of strengthening relationships is to make newcomers feel welcome. To that end, EnnisArt also created a Tree of Life on the entrance floor. It pictures doves in the branches, symbolizing the congregation’s desire to open its arms to all.

“Our Growing Peace project is about more than this construction initiative,” Harader said. “We believe that God is calling us to grow in our own faith and to open our doors and our hearts for more people to come and grow with us.”

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