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November 20, 2019 | 6:41pm
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Ferndale’s Christ Lutheran Church tears down walls and opens doors

Remodeling and construction efforts this year makes the space more accessible, versatile, and allows for more room to host outreach programs.

Approaching the freshly painted building, with its lofty peaks and vast front entrance, you are welcomed into a side entrance and shown where you and your family will be taking reprieve for the week as part of Family Promise. On Sundays the room you are staying serves as a place for children to play and learn about God, but for the week this is your home. The newly constructed rooms are across from a brand-new pair of private bathrooms, outfitted with extra shelving and accessible layouts to better suit your needs. Your room is furnished with cots with freshly washed bedding, lamps, side tables, and other small things to make it feel like home.

  • Entrance to Christ Lutheran Church prior to the remodel project. Photo courtesy of Christ Lutheran Church.
  • Entrance to Christ Lutheran Church after the remodel project had begun. Photo courtesy of Christ Lutheran Church.
  • Entrance to Christ Lutheran Church after remodel project was completed in 2019. Photo courtesy of Christ Lutheran Church.

Or perhaps you do approach that vast front entrance, with four doors and a smiling welcoming team greeting you before Sunday worship. Looking around you see a large meeting room, another set of single-user bathrooms, and a window into the office spaces where the people who make the gears of the church turn do their work during the week.  Around the corner you notice the child-safe Pray Ground where your children can play and be cared for during the service. The space is lively and modern, with an aesthetically appealing light fixture that draws your eyes to the high ceiling.

Or maybe you are just driving down this busy, main road; curious about all of the construction that has been taking place at this church all year. Any day of the week at almost any time lights are on and cars are in the parking lot, giving the impression that this place serves more than just one purpose. It’s updated exterior appearance and newly poured, wheelchair-friendly sidewalks give off a fresh and welcoming feeling.

Whichever it may be, Christ Lutheran Church, located at 5904 Vista Drive, has been working tirelessly this year to make it’s building more accessible and versatile. With ADA compliant bathrooms, a shiny new commercial kitchen, and up to code fire doors, the renovation efforts have paid off with allowing for more activities and people to fill the space.

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The first ever church service in this building was held on May 19, 1968, according to Christ Lutheran Church (CLC)’s website. In 1982, a large remodel was done to turn the sanctuary space into a fellowship hall and classroom space was added for the Sunday School and coveted preschool that runs during the year. CLC’s history page states that the “first service in the present sanctuary was held on Easter Sunday 1986,” and that was the last time the church building was remodeled. In 2017, it was decided that upgraded facilities were greatly needed and thus began the “Creating Space for Grace!” campaign. Ambitions were running high as planning committees discussed all of the potential that this project could open up– and having obtained official occupancy permits in April these dreams are already coming true.

Building the first sanctuary for Christ Lutheran Church (looking west toward Vista Drive - circa 1967). Photo courtesy of Christ Lutheran Church.
Building the first sanctuary for Christ Lutheran Church (looking west toward Vista Drive – circa 1967). Photo courtesy of Christ Lutheran Church.

“Our new and remodeled spaces now allow for us to host Godly Play for children, serve as the Ferndale host church for financial literacy classes and programs with the Whatcom Dream Foundation, have more comfortable accommodations for Family Promise four weeks a year, and have more space and nicer facilities for youth, preschool, quilting, fellowship (the new kitchen is awesome!), adult education, and child care with the Pray Ground,” said the Rev. Dr. Jana Schofield, presiding pastor at CLC, in an email interview about the church visions and building additions. “We also recently installed a washer/dryer that will allow us to better serve Family Promise and consider possibilities like using cloth napkins for the daily preschool snack. ​Now we have ADA-accessible and gender-neutral restrooms, better lighting and HVAC, child-safe and friendly spaces.”

Christ Lutheran Church interior space during remodel project completed in 2019. Photo courtesy of Christ Lutheran Church.
Christ Lutheran Church interior space during remodel project completed in 2019. Photo courtesy of Christ Lutheran Church.

All of these efforts have been to draw in new members who are searching for a modern church to call home, as well as to support growth of ministries and outreach programs. “Our entire congregation of about 275 members and 75 preschoolers and their families will certainly be impacted, but we will also serve 25+ for financial literacy classes, up to 50 different people for Family Promise, and hopefully several new families with Godly Play,” Schofield continued when asked how many people are impacted by the church and its programs. “Our new interim Children and Youth Minister is interested in hosting an after-school drop in time in the youth room at least one day a week, and we might look into hosting cooking classes, etc. We hope to see the number expand as we realize potential in these spaces.” And potential is infinite in the new state-of-the-art facilities.

A lot of consideration went into making the classroom spaces versatile by adding a secure side entrance, new bathrooms, and a large open space that can be partitioned into smaller rooms. One main use is for the new Sunday School curriculum that is being introduced for this coming school year. According to the Godly Play Foundation’s website, it is “the result of a lifetime of research and practice by theologian, author and educator The Rev. Dr. Jerome Berryman, the Godly Play® method is a curriculum of spiritual practice exploring the mystery of God’s presence in our lives.”  This widespread and well-respected program is “based on Montessori principles and developed using a spiral curriculum, the Godly Play method serves children through early, middle and late childhood and beyond” states their website’s home page. Christ Lutheran Church is hoping that adopting this revamped Sunday School method will draw in families with younger kids.

“We built our remodel and expansion wanting to create a literal and figurative ‘side door’ into the church for those who might not step foot in a sanctuary, but still have spiritual needs,” Schofield elaborated. “Our labyrinth, classes, Godly Play, and fellowship offerings are open to all. Soon we will have better interior signage and art that reflects the diversity of our community.”

Christ Lutheran Church remodel effort underway. Photo courtesy of Christ Lutheran Church.
Christ Lutheran Church remodel effort in the educational wing. Photo courtesy of Christ Lutheran Church.

The other main purpose for the educational wing of the church is to host families through Family Promise. “Family Promise organizes houses of worship, social services agencies, nonprofits, and other local organizations to work together to provide a truly holistic response to families experiencing homelessness and at-risk families,” according to the Family Promise’s FAQs page on their website. “Because we utilize existing community resources, we are able to provide services at 1/3 the cost of traditional shelters. Typically, 10-13 houses of worship agree to provide shelter, meals, and hospitality to families for a week at a time on a rotating basis. Congregations provide shelter space and volunteers cook meals, play with children, and share their professional skills with families in the program.” CLC can host up to five families (that are rotating from church to church) four times a year.

“What started as one woman’s response to meeting a homeless woman on the streets of New York City has grown into a national movement comprising more than 200 Affiliates and 200,000 volunteers across 43 states. Since our founding we have served nearly one million family members: one Affiliate, one congregation, one volunteer at a time,” states the Family Promise website. A glance at a recent report from Family Promise of Whatcom County on what the church has contributed shows just how true that is. In 2018, CLC’s impact eliminated the need to raise $34,207 for homeless support through 285 volunteers putting in 1,213 hours over 28 days of hosting a total of 39 people.

“Our new addition has moved our bathrooms right next to the Sunday School rooms our families are sleeping in,” said Dave Schlack, coordinator of Family Promise at CLC and an active volunteer for everything else. “We are now completely sectioned off from the preschool area and just around the corner from a much larger and modern kitchen to feed our people. The lighting is better and the building is safer for our guests.” Of course, Family Promise is not the only program that will be utilizing the renovated spaces.

“We now have more rooms and better space for more groups to meet, even simultaneously. Our kitchen has more space and better equipment to feed larger groups,” Schlack says, listing what the new spaces could do for outreach and for the community. “We can accommodate large wedding parties or put on a big fundraiser. In our new facility, we recently hosted an educational event for emergency service people. Once we get the generator we are raising money for, we will be really prepared to be an emergency service site for disasters. We want to offer educational events on relevant topics that can help the people of our community – anything from mental/chemical health issues to parenting skills.”

Although there is now a lot of room for growth, the construction phase put a hold on a lot of church activities. “United Church of Ferndale had to take over hosting Family Promise guests at their facility for nearly the whole year we were building,” Schlack explained. “We couldn’t have Sunday School for the whole year, and we couldn’t use the fellowship hall at all – no meals, quilting, youth activities in that room.” The extremely popular, always full preschool that is housed in CLC also had to be relocated for half the year. According to their newsletter archives on CLC’s website, they rented out space in the building that used to be Windward High School.

Demolition underway on the educational wing during the 2019 Christ Lutheran Church remodel project . Photo courtesy of Christ Lutheran Church.
Demolition underway on the educational wing during the 2019 Christ Lutheran Church remodel project . Photo courtesy of Christ Lutheran Church.

Volunteers have a positive outlook regarding working in the new spaces. “As a volunteer Sunday School teacher, the new and upgraded facilities will be a tremendous help,” said Tammy Linn who is very involved at the church. She explained that the Sunday School was frequently sharing a space with the preschool, so they had to completely set up and take down their space every Sunday. Linn noted having a child-friendly “Pray Ground” and improved security for the educational wing door as being significant improvements to the space. The aforementioned “Pray Ground” used to double as a meeting space for most church committees. “I had tried a few years ago to change that room from just a meeting space to a kid’s room without much success.  The tables kept getting put back without being removed on Sundays for the kids.  I’m glad we finally have space for both the kids and a separate meeting room,” said Linn. There was a large meeting room added onto the church during construction in order to meet these needs.

Linn echoed Schlack’s enthusiasm for the new opportunities that the large kitchen and updated gathering spaces will give to the church. “Some people feel more comfortable volunteering in a new, bigger space and if one feels comfortable, they are more apt to repeat the experience,” Linn said. “If I were a cook, I would like to work in this kitchen with all the storage,” she added.

  • Christ Lutheran Church kitchen after being gutted during the remodel project. Photo courtesy of Christ Lutheran Church.
  • Walls are installed for the new Christ Lutheran Church kitchen during the remodel project. Photo courtesy of Christ Lutheran Church.

Unfortunately, even good deeds cost money, and Christ Lutheran Church’s remodel came at no small cost. “We had a capital campaign where members and some regularly attending non-members have pledged and have been fulfilling their pledge,” said Audra McLain, the church president and one of the people in charge of finances for the building project. “The building budget was originally set at $1.25M.  The initial campaign goal was $600k. We also secured a $990k loan. We used about $100k from the church/campaign and then the loan provided the remaining funding. The building cost ended up about $1.325M with some additional work to be done.”

The “Creating Space for Grace!” informational brochure from 2017 on Christ Lutheran’s website states that CLC “is undertaking a three-year campaign to reach our goal of supporting the planned renovation. Our plans call for the congregation to raise $700,000 over three years. In July, the Church Council set a goal of $500,000. Further discussion as well as the strong desire to provide for a new kitchen and related increased storage space accelerated that goal to $700,000.” The brochure explains the campaign name: “Grace is at work in our ministries and we want to extend God’s welcome in our community and ministry. Our plans include significant renovation and addition to our current ministry facility.” Although steep, this price point is far below what it could’ve been had CLC not received support from multiple sources.

“Some sub-contractors gave discounts,” McLain said in an email.  “I don’t have that tracked very well but it is probably about $5,000. Our architect donated a lot of his time and that probably saved us $20,000.” According to a weekly church newsletter email from July 11, 2019, “during our building project, CLC received a generous designated gift to be used by July 1 for a washer/dryer. That gift, plus Thrivent monies and an $800 discount from DeWaard and Bode, allowed the church to purchase the washer/dryer for only five dollars and 43 cents!!” Only having to pay $5.43 out of pocket allows for spending in other areas. The generous discount from DeWaard and Bode Appliances is just one example of community support for CLC’s campaign.

“There are a variety of reasons people donated,” McLain explained when asked why she felt that people would be motivated to contribute to this project. “Some want to be able to serve the community better (Family Promise, financial education classes), serve children better (education rooms, access for potential afterschool program), serve membership better (accessibility, fellowship). There have been some donations in memory to acknowledge the role the church played in their life.”

Christ Lutheran was also given a helping hand by an Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) program that is specifically to cater to the needs of church building projects. McLain noted that the ELCA Mission Builders were a group of five couples who worked on church construction. She said that the women were volunteers and “the men worked for minimum wage, which is well below what we would have had to pay a subcontractor.”

Mission Builders volunteers helping with the 2019 Christ Lutheran Church remodel project. Photo courtesy of Christ Lutheran Church.
Mission Builders volunteers helping with the 2019 Christ Lutheran Church remodel project. Photo courtesy of Christ Lutheran Church.

According to the ELCA’s website, Mission Builders “use their God-given skills to help ELCA congregations, schools, camps and social ministry organizations construct or improve their facilities[…] A typical project includes the Mission Builders, members of the congregation or organization and various other professionals from the community working side-by-side to improve facilities.” Looking further into it, the webpage elaborates that “some builders are retired professional contractors, builders or carpenters, but most come from other walks of life: retired farmers, police officers, sales people, doctors, teachers, mechanics, pastors, etc. Those with experience help those with less experience.”

Typically, a Mission Builder crew stays in their personal RVs on the church’s property or are otherwise housed by the church for around three months, and the congregations must provide workers’ compensation insurance as well as pay minimum wage. The Builders work for eight hours, five days a week and take part in daily devotions with church members as well as attend the church they are staying at for that time. An infographic on the Mission Builders website claims that they have helped construct over 300 structures in the past 30 years, saving ministries over $30 million. Christ Lutheran Church hosted the five couples in their personal RVs over the summer.

For more information, visit https://clcferndale.org/ or call 360-384-1422.

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Laurel Brinson-Larrabee
Laurel Brinson-Larrabee
Laurel is a 2018 Ferndale High School graduate. She is currently attending Oregon State University perusing a double major in graphic design and photography as well as a double minor in English and art history.
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