Columbia Presbyterian Church works on expansion

$7 million project aims to accommodate congregation's growth

By Cami Joner, Columbian retail & real estate reporter

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With its Sunday services and daily youth programs bursting at the seams, a Vancouver church's $7 million expansion is a blessed sight for its leaders and growing congregation.

Expected to finish up in May, the construction project at Columbia Presbyterian Church, 805 Columbia Ridge Drive, will double the size of the main sanctuary, add elevator access between two levels and enlarge the church's entrance and gathering area to three times its size. The work also includes a complete remodel of the church's kitchen and the addition of a Christian library and prayer room.

An already finished part of the project included installing new windows and a heating and cooling system for a church wing that houses the Circle of Friends Preschool.

As part of a major upgrade at the church's approximately 3-acre campus, work on a separate building at 8715 Saint Helens Ave. will remodel facilities used by Columbia's youth program.

The expansion is long overdue for the 1960s-style building, said Terry Robertson, church administrator. The church, headed by Senior Pastor Fitz Neal, packs in worshipers every Sunday.

Church services include a traditional ceremony with a 50-member adult choir and organ music, and a contemporary service, accompanied by Christian rock music.

Nearly 1,400 people regularly attend services at Columbia Presbyterian; attendance has gradually increased over the past several years, Robertson said.

The growth represents a counter to a nationwide trend at many mainline Protestant churches, which include Presbyterian, United Methodist, Lutheran, Episcopal and Baptist, among other faiths. Robertson said Columbia Presbyterian's services seem to resonate with its flock.

"We're growing, which is very unique for most mainline churches these days," he said.

Parishioners expect to raise money within nine years to pay for the church project, Robertson said. He said Columbia Presbyterian and its charitable foundation were without debt at the start of the campaign.

Spiritual symbol

This week, crews worked to raise and enlarge the roof over the church's main sanctuary, which will provide seating for about 560 people, double the church's present capacity. It will also include upgrades that improve the sanctuary's acoustics, and a new organ. The work is being overseen by general contractor Merit Construction Northwest, based in Lakewood.

But one thing that won't change is the new sanctuary's main focal point and the church's most sacred symbol, a 60-foot-tall wooden cross preserved from the old sanctuary. Four hand-quilted seasonal scenes made by the church women provide a backdrop for the cross. Preserving the cross was highly important to the Columbia Presbyterian Church congregation. Robertson said.

"It will be the centerpiece for everyone in the sanctuary to see," he said.

Robertson said church leaders expect to hold their first service in the new sanctuary by the first week of May, if not earlier.

"We had hoped to be in by Easter Sunday, which is April 20," he said. "And it might happen."