WELLSBURG - At a time when many churches are striving to fill their pews and pinching their pennies to pay the bills, building a $1.9 million addition at Brooke Hills Free Methodist Church may have seemed like a giant leap of faith.
And the Rev. Bryce Grieco, church pastor, admitted there was some hesitation initially by church members who said the Ohio Valley is facing tough economic times.
"I said, if that's true, then wouldn't this be a great testimony to God," said Grieco. "God wants opportunities like that. He wants people to step out in faith and show his glory."
EXPANSION COMPLETED — Members of Brooke Hills Free Methodist Church celebrated the completion of a $1.9 million expansion with a special service and breakfast Sunday. Discussing the addition are, from left, the Rev. James Jobes, superintendent of the Pittsburgh Conference of the Free Methodist Church; the Rev. Bryce Grieco, the church’s pastor; and the Rev. David Roller, bishop of the Eastern Area of the Free Methodist Church. -- Warren Scott
But the decision to expand the church on Washington Pike by 16,900 additional feet wasn't based solely on the assumption that more space will draw more people.
The church already had an average attendance of 240 people between its two Sunday morning services. Because the church's former sanctuary had seating for 110, one of the services had been moved to the multipurpose center used by the church for recreational activities and dubbed the Christian Life Center.
Grieco said the styles of the two services - one contemporary with music performed by a small band, and the other more traditional - also dictated the need for two gatherings. But elements of the two have been merged and thanks to the addition of a 440-seat sanctuary, the entire church congregation can worship together.
An open house for the new addition at Brooke Hills Free Methodist Church at 1340 Washington Pike will be held from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday.
The Rev. Steve Roller, bishop of the Eastern Area of the Free Methodist Church, said the project wouldn't have been possible without "visionary leadership, people who believe it will happen and support from the community."
Before a commitment to construction was made, a campaign was launched by the heads of 26 families in the church, including co-directors John and Beverly Cook, with the help of TLC Ministries of New Castle, Ind., a professional fundraising organization.
It included several rallies, a 24-hour prayer service and more than 100 home visits.
The result: church members pledged nearly $1 million for the project, of which about $650,000 has been paid, Grieco said with a loan through Progressive Bank covering the remainder of the cost.
"I think the people of Brooke Hills Free Methodist will be ferocious in paying that off," he said.
Designed and built by the McKnight Group, a Grove City, Ohio, firm specializing in church construction, the addition is connected to the former church building and multipurpose center.
The former sanctuary has been devoted for youth worship, and many Sunday school classrooms have been created in the original and new sections.
The new sanctuary has an adjoining sound-proof nursery where parents tending to a crying baby may view the service on a television monitor thanks to a video camera used to record the service.
The sanctuary itself is equipped with large television screens at each side on which song lyrics, announcements and other information may be displayed, as well as a new sound system.
Grieco said there are plans to broadcast services live on the Internet.
The project also included leveling of the church's parking lot, which had been on a steep slope.
"It's unbelievable how much dirt was moved out here. It was 18 feet higher back there," said Grieco as he pointed to an area behind the building.
Over the 10 months of construction some accommodations had to be made. While the parking lot was leveled, some church members parked at nearby Franklin Primary School with the permission of the Brooke County Board of Education.
And services were held in the gym of the multipurpose center.
Grieco said the entire project, from design to completion, was three years in the making and many people helped to make it possible.
The Rev. James Jobes, superintendent of the Pittsburgh Conference of the Free Methodist Church, said, "Pastor Bryce and his team have done a great job of showing their people the purpose of this building. They've done a great job of reaching out not just to the community but to the greater area."
The church has offered a variety of activities in the Christian Life Center and at the Jackson Memorial Pavilion, an outdoor shelter, including hosting an Upward Sports basketball program with more than 200 participants and an annual Community Day event that includes free food, games and entertainment.
Members of the church also have held cookouts at the Blue Ridge Manor apartment complex on Washington Pike.
Roller said it shows that churches once again can play an active part in their communities.
Grieco said the idea of Brooke Hills Free Methodist Church serving a larger community really is nothing new. He said some of the credit must go to the Rev. Elwood Daugherty, the church's late pastor, who headed the church when it merged with churches in Follansbee and Avella.
Jobes said such developments demonstrate the congregation's "unselfish and open attitude toward reaching out to others."
(Scott can be contacted at email@example.com)