By Mary Haley
For the Mirror
astor John Collins of the First Church of Christ in Juniata Gap made a promise to his congregation that despite a yearlong expansion project at the church, the congregation would not cancel worship because of construction work.
(Mirror photo by J.D. Cavrich) First Church of Christ in Juniata recently completed an expansion project that includes a bigger sanctuary and welcome area as well as a gymnasium, more classrooms and a kitchen.
"I challenged the people at the beginning to be here,'' Collins said, "and they were. It was inconvenient at times, when we had to do things like go through temporary doors until our entrance area was ready, but we were here every Sunday.''
It took a lot of volunteers, and others, like church custodian Jenn Broadrick, to make that happen, Collins said.
"She managed to come in and clean every weekend so that we could have services,'' Collins said. "Altogether, our people really did a marvelous job.''
Broadrick said it wasn't easy, but she got a lot of help, starting with the construction workers from Lawruk Builder Inc. of Altoona. They would clean up as best they could before they left the site every Friday, she said.
"It was amazing,'' Broadrick said. "I would walk into the building and see all the construction, and it would look like one gigantic mess, and then I would go back later and all their tools would be put away, and they would have tried to sweep up for me.''
Broadrick would then get to work with wash rags and a bucket of water. She said she couldn't use dust cloths because they would scatter the dust that seemed to be all over.
After she wiped everything down, she put the vacuum cleaner to the test and had to take the overworked machine to the repair shop more than once.
For her, the work was worth it.
"I was surprised but glad that people could come and see the progress that was being made,'' she said.
The building project started in May 2013 and cost $3.7 million. Collins said the church needed to expand because it had outgrown its facilities.
When he arrived as pastor of the church in 1993, the congregation had 163 members and has grown to 800.
"It became apparent that we really needed to expand our space for the church to grow,'' he said.
Families are a big part of that growth, so the church has added classrooms, a new gym and playground for recreational activities and a nursery.
A kitchen and additional parking as well as an elevator were part of the project.
At first, church leaders considered constructing a new building that would be attached to the church, but they opted instead to expand their existing structure, making the addition blend with the original building, Collins said.
The project had several parts, but the one most people notice first is the large welcoming area where visitors and members alike first enter through the main doors.
Don McClune, the counseling and visitation pastor for the church's Compassionate Christian Counseling, said the space has brought a new energy to the church.
"Not that it wasn't here before, but when you're coming out of one of the services, it's just much easier to stop and talk with someone now,'' he said.
The church offers three Sunday services, one with traditional music and two others with contemporary worship music.
Whatever style of service they prefer, many members stay after worship to enjoy a free cup of coffee in the new cafe, that's also part of the renovation project.
In the lower level, the new gym will not only benefit the church's youth but also the congregation which looks forward to the annual Thanksgiving dinner, McClune said.
In the past, the church used its sanctuary for the dinner, limiting the meal to about the 500 people the space could accommodate. The church will be able to host a much bigger Thanksgiving feast this year, McClune said.
"It'll really be great. We'll be able to get in so many more people in the gym,'' he said.
When it's not the site of a church dinner, the gym is where children in the preschool and other youth programs will try out the new sports equipment bought by Connie Iscrupe, associate children's ministry director.
A certified teacher, she has purchased bicycles, helmets and other sports equipment for the children to use in the gym and on the new playground.
In addition to the preschool, the church offers religious-based programs for youth on Wednesday night and Sunday morning, Iscrupe said.
"I have been able to do so much,'' she said. "This church has allowed me to plan so many activities for the children.''
The expansion project gave back to the adults some classrooms for Bible study that they had given up as the need for more space for the preschool increased, Iscrupe said. The adults had started gathering in private homes for some of their Bible studies, but now they can meet at the church, she said.