Thirty years after opening, Asbury United Methodist Church has unveiled a new sanctuary and more space to hold its growing congregation.
Amy Gonzalez, Asbury’s communications coordinator, described an atmosphere of celebration and awe at Asbury United Methodist Church’s inaugural service in the new sanctuary on Easter.
“He arose,” Amy says. “And our congregation and the Birmingham community came to celebrate.”
Nearly 3,000 worshippers joined together in the new sanctuary for a time of praise and teaching—and the effect of gathering in the space was powerful.
Asbury has been bringing people together in worship since 1986—and it has grown a lot in the past 32 years. In fact, it had already outgrown two other facilities before settling in to its current location on Alabama 119 in north Shelby County—and now, it’s in its third phase of expansion.
Part of that expansion includes a new sanctuary that offers double the space of the old one. Construction finished on March 16, with the first service held there on Easter morning. Now, the congregation at Asbury enjoys a 1,200-person capacity, 50,000 square feet of space and an additional 15,000 square feet in the ground floor for future expansion.
“I nearly dropped to my knees in awe,” says member Larry King, who has called Asbury home since 2004. “Not only because it was beautiful, but God’s spirit was there. When I first walked in there after the construction was finally done, there was this overwhelming sense of grace—I thought, what a gift for me. I can come in here and talk to God anytime I want to.”
Several improvements have come along with the new sanctuary, including an organ, three beautiful stained glass windows that represent the Holy Trinity, and a music suite directly below the sanctuary that accommodates handbell rehearsals and choir practice.
“The new space is wedding-friendly, offering private quarters for both brides and grooms,” Amy says. “The bride’s room is just off the lobby and doubles as a prayer room, which is open to the congregation on Sundays and throughout the week. The groom’s quarters are located behind the chancel and double as pastoral counseling space.”
Additionally, the new space offers two separate rooms for preparing communal elements and floral arrangements. There are also two large classrooms beneath the sanctuary for Adult ministry, and plans are moving along for a dedicated youth space.
“Construction on Asbury’s brand-new Youth Suite is underway,” Amy says. “Asbury wanted to give its youth a dedicated place to call their own. The completely modernized space has a new hangout area, dedicated offices for its staff and space for kids to be kids.”
The church is also building a new food pantry to serve those in need in the Birmingham community.
When asked about the congregation’s response to the new space, Amy listed off several words she’d heard from various members: awesome, breathtaking, beautiful, huge, peaceful, warm and welcoming.
“They’ve also said it’s a very sacred and worshipful space,” Amy adds. “They appreciate the fact that it looks, sounds and feels like a church and not a community center. They like that everything focuses on the chancel. They like the fact that we’re doing traditional worship in a big, positive and powerful way.”
So what will happen to the old sanctuary now that the new one is up and running? Its life certainly isn’t over; in fact, it’s already been renamed Williams Chapel in honor of Asbury’s founding pastor, the Rev. Mitchell Williams. After undergoing renovations, it will become the permanent home for The Bridge.
The members of Asbury are thrilled with their new space for many reasons, one of which is the opportunity to welcome more visitors and new members.
“I want people to know that we value our tradition as United Methodists and that we truly do have open hearts, open minds and open doors,” Senior Pastor Rev. Dr. Kip Laxson says. “Asbury has a worship experience for every age. We involve our children, youth and adults in our worship services—and those services aren’t concerts where people just listen or watch a screen.”
King echoes the sentiment. “It doesn’t matter who you are, where you’re from or what you’ve done. You’ll be embraced.”
For those interested in visiting Asbury, there are a variety of services offered. The Traditions services are at 8:30 a.m. and 11 a.m. in the new sanctuary. The Bridge, which happens at 11 a.m., will be meeting in the gym until renovations on Williams Chapel are complete. Worship opportunities are offered for adults, youth and children on Sunday mornings, Sunday evenings and Wednesday evenings.
For more information, visit Asbury’s website at asburyonline.org.