First church votes to Re-build

New sanctuary will help First Methodist shine light Downtown

Reaffirming its Downtown ministry, historic First United Methodist Church will build a new sanctuary blending the traditional and modern on the corner of Poplar and Second.

Church members approved plans for the $4.1 million project to replace the 113-year-old sanctuary destroyed by fire in 2006. The church has applied for a building permit, and construction should begin soon.

The new building maintains the traditional look of a sanctuary and bell tower, reflecting the rich past of the 191-year-old First Methodist. Glass walls add a modern touch, opening the church up to its Downtown neighbors and pointing to a bright future serving that community.

“First Methodist is literally rising from the ashes to witness to God’s power and love,” said Rev. Andy Rambo. “We want our new sanctuary to be a beacon of welcome to Downtown and all of Memphis.”

Plans call for an expanse of glass on the south wall along Poplar, plus a glass wall between the foyer and sanctuary and more glass fronting an interior courtyard on the north. Continuing the theme of mixing old and new, granite from the original sanctuary will be used for Gothic detailing on the west facade on Second to tie in with the church’s education and fellowship building next door.

The new sanctuary will embody the church’s message of openness and invitation. "The large glass areas along Poplar will allow our neighbors to view activties inside the sanctuary,'' architect and church member Bill Wage wrote, allowing the “light of Jesus” to shine out. First Methodist hosts several Downtown ministries, including a food pantry, a burrito ministry and an urban bicycle food ministry.

Rebuilding began after the fire but slowed for lack of funds, leaving a frame of steel beams si]ng on a concrete slab that will be incorporated into the new sanctuary. This "open-air sanctuary'' has hosted a ministry to feed the homeless and church celebrations.

Thanks to the generosity of donors, First Methodist has raised nearly $2 million of the amount needed for construction and hopes to raise the rest without borrowing. “We are so blessed by the faithfulness of our members and the support of our neighbors,” Rambo said. “With God’s help, First Methodist will continue to spread the Gospel for the next 190 years.”

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