SUMMERVILLE — St. John the Beloved Church is undergoing a major construction project designed to help the parish become more of a tight-knit and welcoming community.
The venture, which started in fall 2006, includes an expansion of the worship space and upgrades to the rest of the church facilities. Seating is being improved, and a large reception area with room for 150 people is being added to provide extra space for people to gather before and after Mass, and on other occasions.
“The whole reason we did this building project was to enhance our ability to feel like community,” said Tom Epperson, director of stewardship and development for St. John. “Welcoming newcomers to the parish in response to our baptismal call is a very high priority for us.”
More than 400 people attended special tours of the new site on June 23 and 24. Crews are currently wiring the interior and working on the exterior brick of the seating area, plus windows and doors were recently installed.
Other elements of the project include upgrading restrooms, increasing access for the disabled, improving acoustic isolation between the gathering and worship spaces, increasing parking, and updating the landscaping of the plaza outside. A bell tower is also being added as a signature piece to mark the front entrance.
Planning for the construction project started in 2002. Surveys were sent to parishioners asking them what facilities they felt were most needed, and building committee members did personal interviews with members of 150 households. Epperson said the committee used that data as well as feedback from several parish “town hall meetings” to make the final decisions on what the building project should include.
John Buscemi, a liturgical consultant from Chicago, also worked with the committee to make sure the plan included both functionality and rich liturgical symbolism.
The design was created by Stubbs, Muldrow and Herin of Mount Pleasant. The contractor is Trident Construction of North Charleston.
The congregation moved out of the main church building on Thanksgiving weekend 2006, and since then Mass has been celebrated in Madden Hall, the parish social hall.
Epperson said the goal is to move back into the church in time to celebrate the first Mass there by the end of October.
The project will cost an estimated $2.5 million. The theme is “Together We’re Building Our Future.”
Epperson said the burgeoning Catholic community in the Summerville area is another reason the enterprise was necessary. Parish rosters at St. John currently show more than 1,200 households, and Epperson says an average of 16 new households are added each month. The new members include young adults, families with children of all ages, and retirees who add to the church’s already active senior community.
“We have so many new people coming into this parish, and we’re really trying to find as many ways as possible to welcome them and help them get plugged into the parish,” he said.
One of the most noticeable elements of the design is the large baptismal font. It will be installed in the center of the new reception area, where people will walk past it as they enter and leave the church.
“The font will have water that is constantly flowing, which reminds us of the never-ending grace we have available,” Epperson said. “It reminds us we’re all drawn back to our baptismal call and the commitment that goes along with that gift.”