By Grace Hooley | Echo
Stacks of chairs line the halls of the new Upland United Methodist Church (UMC) building, symbolizing the people that will soon fill them. It's an empty room with a wooden stage on one end. It's not a cold, lifeless space; it's a blank slate ready for new memories and new encounters with God.
UMC has spent the past year in the process of moving from one building, recently bought by Taylor, to another, located at the intersection of Eighth and Washington streets. Project manager Tammy Neel, wife of UMC Pastor Rob Neel, is the head of this project.
Volunteers have been flowing into UMC's new building. According to Tammy Neel, about 95 percent of the people who have come to help have been volunteers. They do anything from lifting heavy objects to cleaning chairs. Volunteers leave feeling accomplished, and all the help is appreciated and has shown the Neels that God is definitely a part of UMC changing buildings.
"Volunteering was fun," said senior Jori Hanna, a UMC attendee and volunteer. "It was really great to have the opportunity to connect more with the community and get to know more of the people at the church."
The Neels' hope for this new building is twofold: that it would offer more room for attendees and that it would allow more access for those with physical disabilities. Their goal right now is for completion of the building and for their certificate of occupancy, a document received from the local government saying the building has complied with applicable building codes and other laws. It also indicates the building is in a condition suitable for occupancy.
The next step for the church after completion is called "phase two," and it encompasses building a kitchen within the church. After that, the church has more construction projects and ideas lined up. Tammy Neel will continue to be the project manager through all of these projects. The Neels are excited to be a blessing to the community and to students at Taylor. This process has brought many challenges for the church and its leaders, but they are trusting in God through these final steps.
"It has been more challenging than we thought, but it has been good," Rob Neel said.
In this time, Rob Neel has seen God's provision through financial issues. He feels he is very frugal, but he is learning to trust God with this fact. In this way, God is reminding him to trust.
Empty rooms and empty chairs will soon be filled with people longing to hear God's voice. Changing buildings hasn't been the easiest for UMC, but everyone involved has fully experienced God in the process. UMC's new building will be completed in the near future, and volunteers, the Neels and everyone in between are excited to be a part of the next project God leads them into.
"I think this building will be a really good step for our growing church," Hanna said. "It's less central to the town, which is a downside, but there is more space for the growing congregation, and we'll be able to serve more people as a result. I'm excited to see what the future holds."