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SOMA Body of Christ Church
By: Jennifer Walker-Journey

SOMA Body of Christ Church discovered its true calling in the face of tragedy five years after it was built.

It was 2005, and Shaun Faulkner felt the call to minister in the town of Holt, a community in Tuscaloosa County, Alabama. Faulkner had grown up in Holt when it was on the downturn of a boom created by a local paper mill. It had grown to be the largest unincorporated community in the state, and while population remained strong, the town's economy did not.

Faulkner had gathered a group of families who felt moved to follow Faulkner into Holt and build a church. According to Faulkner, "The goal was not to be the church in the Holt area, but to be a church that played a larger part in the community."

Someone must have been listening.

As Faulkner drove through the Holt area looking for property to build the church, he stumbled upon a house set on a generous seven-acre landscape of cypress and oak trees. The property sat adjacent to a mobile home park. The four-bedroom, two-and-a-half-bathroom house was somewhat unconventional for a church, but Faulkner saw beyond that to what it could someday be. On the advice of one of its members, SOMA hired Marcum Architects, LLC, to help the group realize their vision for the property.

"The initial goal was to develop a master plan that complemented and preserved the natural beauty of the site while maximizing the full potential of the site for use by the church," said John M. Marcum, AIA. "The master plan was developed in three phases, allowing the church to develop each phase independently with a specific program and budget."

The first phase featured a multipurpose building with a 200-seat worship space, lobby or gathering area, offices, and parking spaces. The second phase included a demolition of existing interior partition walls in the first phase worship and office areas that would increase the worship seating capacity to 280 seats. It also included the addition of 17,500 square feet of educational and office space. The third phase added a 700-seat sanctuary, classrooms, a fellowship hall, kitchen, and much more parking.

"The architecture was designed to blend in with the surrounding residential neighborhoods in materials and scale. The forms, materials, and colors were selected to provide a warm and organic setting for gathering and worship," Marcum said. "The interior was designed to incorporate natural light and views out to the wooded area. As with the exterior, it was made warm and organic."

The plan seemed seamless, and even preserved, as many of the eastern red cedars on the site as possible. SOMA notified its neighbors of its plans to build, but the support was not entirely overwhelming. A neighbor fought the rezoning and worried what chaos a new church would bring. Ultimately, SOMA was granted the opportunity to build.

Construction on the first phase began September 2008, and by May 2009, the space was complete. Again, SOMA sent out notices to its neighbors and welcomed members and guests for services. Things seemed to be running smoothly. The church was fulfilling its mission, or so it seemed.

And then April 2011 came.

"It was Wednesday, and we knew the storms were coming," said Faulkner. "The state's meteorologists let us know it was a 'red letter' day. We should have been prepared, but so many times you hear this and nothing happens. Then, they let out schools early so we called off Bible study."

Shortly after 5 p.m., the sirens sounded, and a dark cloud covered north Alabama, dropping hail, strong winds, and a massive, reportedly mile-wide tornado in Tuscaloosa County. The devastation was rampant throughout the county, hitting the community of Holt especially hard.

It would be days before church members could make it through the streets, which were covered with storm debris and emergency crews, to see how the church fared. Destruction was everywhere. The mobile home park that sat next door was completely leveled. The cedar trees on the church's grounds were flattened.

And the newly built SOMA Body of Christ Church? It stood tall among the wreckage, a beacon of hope.

The only damage sustained was two broken windows, but they were not caused by the tornadoes. One small window was broken by a family seeking shelter just before the storm rolled in. That family rode out the storm by turning over the altar and huddling underneath. The other window, on the front door, was shattered by a two-by-six shortly after the storm by families looking for shelter and a triage area for the injured.

Over the next few months, SOMA served as a staging point for more than 4,600 volunteers and emergency workers, serving as one of the major relief centers in the county. It also offered a sense of hope to thousands in the area who lost family members, homes, and possessions.

Since the storms, SOMA has had to rethink how it will work through the rest of the master plan. The church still hopes to grow within Holt, and it has purchased the property on which the mobile home park sat. Now realizing its purpose, SOMA has become an even bigger part of the community of Holt.

What about the neighbor who resisted the church's construction early on? She's changed her tune, as well.

"I showed her the next project that we were planning and she said to me, 'You can do anything you want at any time. I have no problem with what you guys are doing,'" Faulkner said. "That was sort of her way of saying, 'I'm on your team.'"

Marcum Architects, LLC was founded in 1998 by John M. Marcum. Clients include churches, municipalities, industrial clients and business owners, with the largest percentage of the firm's work focusing on church design. Over the past 14 years, the firm has worked with churches in six states, www.marcumarchitects.com.

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