Posted April 23, 2024 in Featured News

Many churches are doing renovations right now. Buildings are having new carpet installed and getting a fresh coat of paint. At Northminster Presbyterian Church in New Castle, PA, plenty of thought has gone into the building’s makeover, but it’s not focusing on the type of rug to buy or the color of the paint to brush onto the walls.

According to Pastor Jordan Rimmer, a lot of thought and discernment has gone into the church’s plans to redo its sanctuary.

“We wanted a deeper dive,” he said. “We didn’t even talk about the sanctuary for months. We did some reading and discussion about worship. People visited churches, and we did not ask, ‘What did you like about that?’ We asked things like, ‘What spoke to you? Where did you experience God?’ So, we decided to rethink worship and who we are and then, later we started to design the space to reflect those decisions.”

He continued, “A big part of that process was to think through a target audience. In other words, what corner of God’s kingdom are we equipped and set up to reach? We decided that we were somewhat traditional but were casual about it. We wanted to mine the past but also give fresh expressions to things.

“We were traditional enough that people who had never been to church would never walk through our doors. But in our area, there are a lot of lapsed mainliners and Catholics. They have left church for whatever reason – they retired and traveled, they had kids, they stopped during Covid. But many would come back if they had a church that was accessible and compelling. We want to be the church where people come back to church. And no one in our community is in that niche.

“So, we made lots of decisions about who we are, who we want to be, who we want to reach and what we want worship to look like. Then we got to the worship space. So, we didn’t have a lot of pushback for what people like and don’t like. That wasn’t the conversation. The conversation was oriented toward who we are and who God wants us to be.”

Following months of diligent planning and thoughtful consideration, the church’s leadership, along with the Future of Worship Task Force, finalized plans to revitalize the sanctuary space to better serve the evolving needs of its members.

Over the course of nearly a year, the task force visited other churches, evaluated various aspects of the worship experience, gathering input from congregation members, and consulted with experts in church design and worship dynamics. After extensive deliberation, the task force presented its recommendations to the church’s board in December, followed by an update to the congregation in January.

During the process, the church has identified that part of who it is is being relaxed and accessible, while also loving tradition and history. It wants to be creative and focus on experiencing God. It feels called to be a church for those who have stopped going to church — the dechurched or lapsed Christian. It wants to be a church for people to come back to church.

As a vision for worship developed, so did a plan to adapt the sanctuary for these purposes.

“We want to make the space more immersive so the congregation feels like they are part of the action and not watching the action,” a press release states. “We want to make space for decorating and set design as well as activities and create responses during worship. And we want to create a sense of awe when you enter the space, so you feel like you are entering the presence of God. And we wanted to stay authentically Northminster and keep nods to our colonial style.”

The plan finally approved includes:

  • Open up the front space: declutter and simplify, draw eyes upward toward the rose window, remove the pulpit, and create space for decorating and creating.
  • Update the space: refinish the pews, new windows, updated paint, new carpet and tile, improve the lighting.
  • Modernize: add screens, put in air conditioning, update the sound system.

Final design choices are being made. Contractors have been scheduled for this summer. The work is scheduled to commence on June 10, immediately following the church’s annual used book sale. The project is slated for completion by Sept. 8.

During the renovation period, Northminster will hold outdoor worship services, as has been its practice during most Sundays in the summer since the pandemic. People will bring chairs or sit in the comfort of their cars and watch the service as it is led from the gazebo. In rain, everyone will be in their cars with the service led from the third-story windows.

The work on the sanctuary will be punctuated by three different worship services:

  • Celebration Sunday: Sunday, May 26, 10:45 a.m. – The final service in the current sanctuary. It will be a time to express thanks for the sanctuary over the years and take a large group picture.
  • Project Prayer service: Sunday June 30, 6 p.m. – Worshipers will enter the sanctuary with no pews and things stripped down. A special service of prayer will be held where people can write their prayers on the floor before the new flooring is put in.
  • Dedication: Sunday Sept. 15, 10:45 p.m. – During the regular Sunday service, the church will dedicate the finished sanctuary. Pastor Rimmer will also introduce his fall sermon series “Revealing Revelation.”

Updates on the renovation progress and alternative worship arrangements will be communicated through the church’s website, social media channels and regular church communications.