NORTON: Grace Brethren Church in Norton rose from the proverbial ashes on Sunday.
Congregants saw a fresh, new worship space — a minimalistic remodeling in soothing tones of burgundy, beige and gray.
“It’s fabulous. It’s welcoming. This made it new and more modern,” raved church member Shelley Beavers of Wadsworth.
Church leaders were forced to remodel their auditorium when an electrical fire swept through the building in January 2011.
No one was hurt on that Tuesday morning. But the whole building was swamped with smoke and virtually nothing usable was left of the auditorium, a 1982 addition that had served as the church sanctuary.
Church members considered several options before deciding to remain on the current footprint of the existing building and rebuild. Insurance came through, so additional fundraising was not needed.
Still, the building sustained $1.5 million in damage, so church members were forced to make do with improvised quarters at Norton High School and then at the church gym. As of Sunday, those days are over.
“We are not the same church we were a year ago,” the Rev. Dan Gregory told perhaps 350 congregants at the 11:30 a.m. contemporary service. “It’s truly unbelievable what God has done.”
The new auditorium is dramatically different from the sanctuaries of traditional churches. There is no cross or stained glass window, no choir loft, no thundering organ, no pews, no robes.
Gregory led the last service of the morning in shirt sleeves and faded blue jeans, and many of his congregants were dressed similarly. “We take you as you are,” Gregory said.
What the new auditorium does have is simplicity. The movable chairs can be arranged to meet the need — say, a center aisle for a wedding. Three screens at the front display the words to music and the highlights of the pastor’s sermons. The exposed pipes in the ceiling lend a contemporary feeling.
About 1,400 congregants attended the three services on Sunday, with virtually no seats to be had at the first two services, Gregory said.
Despite the fire, church attendance has grown, he said.
“Our inconvenience has been God’s opportunity,” he said. “We wouldn’t have chosen [the fire], but it gave us a chance to address the space.”
Since 1999, the church, located at 3970 S. Cleveland-Massillon Road, and the former Fairlawn Grace Brethren Church in Bath Township have merged as one church on two campuses. Grace Church also is founding a campus in Medina.
That new space on the Norton campus got an enthusiastic thumbs up from Aidan Finn, 21, of Doylestown, who is a member of the church’s seven-member rock band.
“I love it. I grew up here, and it’s cool to see the space change,” he said. “There’s a new energy.”
Carol Biliczky can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 330-997-3729.