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Second Mount Zion Baptist Church
By: Jennifer Walker-Journey

The members of Second Mount Zion Baptist Church in Hanover, Virginia, were ready for a new sanctuary for its growing congregation. For decades, they had enjoyed worshiping in a church on a large piece of property and dreamed of filling that space with a church building that could fulfill all their needs. They met with an architect who drew up plans to demolish their current 60s-era sanctuary and rebuild a grand new building.

The plan turned out to be a bit too grand, costing far more than the church could manage. Church leadership realized they needed to go back to the drawing board – so to speak – and get a new perspective from another architect.

“I got a call out of the blue from a member of their building committee,” said William Henry Harris, principal with William Henry Harris & Associates Architects & Planners. “They asked me to come over and give a presentation. I looked at the drawings they had done up to that point. It was much more than they could manage. I suggested to them they might want to revisit their ideas and come up with something a little easier for them to take on.”

This isn’t the first time churches have run into situations where they have plans drawn for the church of their dreams, but it turns out to be far out of reach financially.

Harris suggests that churches considering a major building project first with a financial institution that deals in church mortgages. They can help church leadership determine just what they can afford.

“A lot of people don’t understand construction and what it costs. They hear there’s a recession and that it is less expensive to build, but that’s not really the case because it costs what it costs,” Harris said. “I think you just have to be realistic about what you can afford.”

It was determined that Second Mount Zion Baptist Church needed to scale back on its plans, but that didn’t mean they couldn’t get everything they wanted – in time, Harris says.

He worked with leadership to develop a master plan that first determined how much of the church’s vast property could be built on, and then worked off the idea of a phased plan, one that would allow them to build their project in smaller, more affordable chunks. He also broached the idea of adding onto and renovating the current sanctuary rather than tearing it down. Church leadership was open to all the ideas.

The buildable space on the property turned out to be the first challenge. A cemetery on the property prevented growth in one area. Wetlands prevented growth in another area. And a substantial setback required by the county dictated the space on which the church could sit.

“We basically worked within that framework,” Harris said.

For the first phase, Harris suggested opening up the current sanctuary by adding on two transepts, or wings, on either side of the rectangular building, nearly doubling seating by adding about 220 seats. Steel beams were put in place opening up the space so views would not be obstructed.

The pulpit was also pulled out to allow a more panoramic view for the pastor. This also opened up more space on the stage, giving more room for musical instruments and allowing choir seating to increase from about 15 to 40.

The narthex and the church’s kitchen were also updated as part of the renovation.

The church was a traditional Georgian-style building like most Baptist churches from that era with red brick and white columns. To keep costs down, the front of the building remained red brick, but the sides received a complementary white stucco finish.

The second phase would add a multipurpose space for fellowship, stage productions or large dinners. It could also be used for recreational activities. The exterior would be made with matching stucco with brick accents.

It took a few years to get the project off the ground, but once ground was broken, the process moved swiftly. Services were moved into a local high school while renovations on the sanctuary were underway. In November 2013, the church opened its doors for a grand dedication ceremony.

“Planning is key to a project like this. And understanding what you can afford to do vs. what you think you can afford to do,” Harris said. “But it also takes a lot of prayer to determine what the right direction to go in is.”

William Henry Harris & Associates Architects & Planners, based in Richmond, Virginia, specializes only in church-related design projects. Established in 1983, the firm offers complete design services for your planning requirements, ranging from programming and master planning through complete project design and construction contract administration, www.harrisarchitects.org.

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