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First United Methodist Church
By: Jennifer Walker-Journey

The sanctuary of First United Methodist Church in Asheboro, North Carolina, has stood in the center of town since 1924. With roots running deep into the early 1800s, First Methodist has the honor of being the first church established in the Asheboro. And, many of its members have attended the church for generations.

Thus, maintaining the church's historical integrity was of vital concern when church leadership discussed renovating the sanctuary in time for its 175th anniversary in the fall of 2009.

When the sanctuary was built, the décor was somewhat typical for the time period, said Missy Rankin, an interior designer who was on the church's building committee. Dramatic stained glass windows flanked the sanctuary. Dark wood provided accents on pews, trim work, and pulpit furniture. The sanctuary remained somewhat unchanged until the 1960s, when it underwent a rather dramatic renovation. An interior designer pulled the gold accents in the stained glass and used it as the theme for the entire area. The pews and trim were painted and antiqued, then topped with polyurethane. Then the heart pine floors were covered in a golden, wool carpet.

But, as the years wore on, the polyurethane chipped and ambered.

A capital campaign helped raise the necessary funds to pay for maintenance and repairs throughout the church, as well as a major renovation of the sanctuary. The renovation would include interior design work to restore the church's traditional décor, as well as carpentry to modernize and make it more flexible for a variety of services.

Rankin worked with the committee to develop a vision for the new sanctuary. The group knew exactly what it wanted the sanctuary to look like; they just needed professionals who could handle the work.

"The building itself is a landmark in our town and it sits on a corner that people pass by every day," said Michael Trogdon, chairman of the church's building committee. "So, we felt it was very important that we take a leading role in the design of the new sanctuary."

For example, one of the biggest changes – and challenges – would be stripping the paint and polyurethane from the pews and restoring them to a stained wood. The pews were slightly curved different in size in order to fit the sanctuary. Having new pews custom built would have been a tremendous expense.

Rankin did research and found Church Interiors, which specializes in church renovation projects including pew refinishing and upholstery; carpet and floor coverings; and audio, visual and lighting. It was a match made in heaven.

"This job was filled with amazing and impossible projects," said Kyle Grove, marketing director for Church Interiors.

Grove prefers to call projects the company works on "historical renovations," because many, like the First United Methodist project, involve preserving and restoring old furniture to its original glory.

The pews and chancel furniture were removed from the church and delivered to a Bristol, Tennessee, workshop where they went through a laborious process of stripping, sanding, and staining. The old carpet was removed and the original heart pine floors were restored and refinished.

"Often in older sanctuaries, at one time or another, the congregation has carpeted over original hardwood flooring," Grove said. "It's exciting for us to help the church reveal, restore, and refinish their existing floors at the same time saving them money."

New, green carpet runners were installed in the aisles, which match the green of the stained glass windows.

"We also totally renovated the church choir loft and chancel area," Grove added. "Before, it was divided into two sections with a small speaking platform or pulpit area with steps on each side. The communion rail was fixed to the floor and was crowding the platform. We removed the communion rail, lowered and expanded the platform to house the pulpit and chancel area, including a removal modesty screen. This screen can be removed, allowing the entire platform to transform into an open stage for larger choirs, musical instruments, and events."

The choir loft was adorned with new hardwood floors, risers, and chairs.

"The communion rail was also removed but not forgotten," Grove said. "It was a huge part of the original sanctuary that the church was determined to keep. So, we redesigned but replicated the old communion rail. The new rail is now fully removable and can be taken apart to help with more platform flexibility. This is especially helpful for weddings and funerals where you would want the center aisle to lead directly to the pulpit."

Because the communion rail was built into the old floor, when it was removed, it left behind a large gap, a section of hardwood floor was missing. Because they were carpeting the balcony in order to eliminate noise in that area, they were able to remove the hardwood flooring in the balcony and use it to repair the floor in the nave. Original heart pine flooring from this era is rare and hard to find. They weaved the flooring form the balcony into the floor in the nave, then sanded and refinished the flooring to match.

The company also repaired and restored the ornate decorative plaster molding and walls. A replicated mold of the molding was created and used to make new sections. Once the molding was completely restored and the cracks in the plaster walls repaired, the church walls were painted in light, neutral shades.

For five months, while the renovation was underway, the sanctuary was unavailable for services. Instead, worship services were held in the Fellowship Hall. By the time the church celebrated its 175-year anniversary in the fall of 2009, the sanctuary was ready for use. The church held a re-dedication as part of its first worship service in the newly renovated space.

Church Interiors has been helping churches renovate and improve their worship flexibility since 1981. Charles Wicker is the owner and served as the project consultant for the First United Methodist Church of Asheboro, North Carolina project.

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