Upon walking into the new Woodstock Baptist Church on Lewis P Fisher Drive in Woodstock, N.B., the large, bright front lobby defines what church leaders and architects envisioned for the modern house of worship.
Glass and steel frame a pair of exquisitely designed stained-glass windows transferred from the historic downtown church which served Woodstock’s Baptist congregation for more than a century. The new building’s large windows facing east and west allow the rising and setting sun to bring the stained-glass Biblical images to life.
After passing the glass-enclosed administration office on the left, the visitor encounters a coffee bar against the right-hand wall across from a comfortable sofa and chairs where people can enjoy a hot beverage and conversation.
On the left are a series of wooden sliding doors, affectionately called the “barn doors,” during their many years at the old church. Once opened, the doors provide easy access to the expansive “Gathering Room,” which can host various public events.
To the right is the heart of the church, the sanctuary, with comfortable seating for up to 450 people to take in church services delivered by Pastor Craig Woodcock and his team.
Keith Bull, a life-long member of the church and original member of the Woodstock Baptist Church’s “building committee” established in 2012, said the church design allows space to complete a balcony to increase the sanctuary’s capacity if required.
As it stands now, explained Bull, the massive state-of-the-art building sits on a single level, without stairs, making it completely accessible to all.
Sitting in one of the new church’s two boardrooms, Bull and Marg Arnold, chair and coordinator of the Future is Now Committee, offer a brief history of the Woodstock Baptist Church in the community. They also describe the road to the new church sitting on the hill overlooking the west end of Woodstock’s Main Street and the St. John River.
Arnold explained the Baptist church’s connection to the greater Woodstock area dates back to 1834, with two parishes serving residents. Near the end of the 19th century, she said, the two churches merged.
The venerable Woodstock Baptist Church stood as a downtown Woodstock landmark, sitting directly across Main Street from the Carleton County Court House.
Arnold said the combined Baptist church congregations built the church early in the 20th century, with the building dedicated in 1908. The church added an attached brick gymnasium in 1959.
She said the old wooden structure stood proudly for more than a century, but church officials recognized the need to address the decades of deterioration.
Bull said the congregation established a building committee in 2012 with the original intent of “to bring it up to date.”
He said many church members recognized the need for a new building as far back as the 100th anniversary of the Woodstock Baptist Church dedication.
“I think membership realized that in 2008,” he said. “People had the vision for this modern church.
In addition to general structural repairs, he said, the committee wanted to landscape the grounds and make the building more accessible.
“We wanted to make it as new as we could, but we certainly found problems with our building,” he said.
He said the committee discovered the upgrade would prove “very costly” and understood renovations of any century-old structure would uncover surprise costs.
Bull said the committee began to explore other options, including a new building.
“We took our time,” he said. “We went to a lot of churches around the province and met with church members.”
Bull said the committee first explored rebuilding on the same downtown lot, but that presented a myriad of issues. It would mean demolishing the old structure and being without any church for an extended period.
He added building on the same site would not solve the lack of available parking at the downtown church. Bull said the small parking lot failed to meet the church’s needs and with other churches nearby, street parking became limited on Sunday mornings.
Bull said the ample parking at the new church is one of the numerous benefits the Woodstock Baptist Church offers its members and visitors. He added the large canopy extended out from the building allows drivers to drop passengers at the front door, away from weather concerns.
Bull and Arnold said the building committee compiled a report to take to church members.
They said the recommendation to build the new church at the new location gained 87 per cent approval from church members.
“The timing was right,” said Bull. “We knew we had an aging church, and we wanted to bring it up to modern standards for future generations.
Arnold said the church already had a tentative agreement with Woodstock officials to swap the town-owned lot on Lewis P. Fisher Drive for the downtown site of the existing church.
The approval came with one caveat, however. The fundraising committee must have $3 million in the bank before moving forward with the plan.
The fundraising committee met the challenging task, said Arnold, allowing the sod-turning to occur in May of 2019.
With the design completed by Goguen Architecture and engineering provided by Hatchard Engineering, crews prepared the lot, laid the foundation and began erecting the steel in the fall of 2019.
With church officials serving as the general contractors, builders worked through COVID protocols in 2020 to complete its construction.
In some ways, COVID-19 helped, said Arnold, noting the size of the structure made it easier for crews to distance and provided lots of volunteers with time on their hands.
Construction took one year, with the new Woodstock Baptist Church holding its first service on Mother’s Day.
Bull said the Woodstock Baptist Church also benefited from the many church members with the required skills needed during such a significant project, citing professional engineer Rob Gray, the building committee chair, as an example.
Among his myriad of contributions during construction, Bull said, Gray designed the large steel frames which hold the cherished stained-glass windows.
Bull said the new church includes the latest technological advances throughout the building, from lighting, heating, security to sound systems. He said services are shared on television monitors throughout the building and online.
Bull described the number of people watching services remotely as “unbelievable.”
Arnold pointed out the design places the Sunday school and nursery near the sanctuary, and each parent has a pager so staff can quietly alert them whenever needed.
The massive church offers plenty of room and specialized areas for all age groups. A well-equipped nursery and playroom serve infants and young toddlers, with another room for children aged three and four.
Children from Grades K to 5 can enjoy the perks of a room and equipment designed specifically for their interests. A youth area provides several rooms for special events, a game room and meeting rooms.
The church includes a complete gym for all age groups, and construction of the outdoor basketball court nears completion.
A modern equipped kitchen sits between the gym and the Gathering Room to efficiently cater to any size group or event.
The administration area provides office space for the pastor, assistant pastor, youth pastor and other staff.
Bull said the modern new church offers opportunities it could only previously dream about, just as its century-old structure provided the warmth and history which formed the base of Woodstock’s Baptist heritage.
“A church is not a building,” Bull said. “A church is the people.”
Arnold and Bull praised the generosity of its members and the community to make a dream come true.
“And God has been a great part of this,” said Arnold.
The next step is an official celebration.
Arnold said a ribbon-cutting is planned for Sept. 19, depending on COVID-19 restrictions at that time.
Jim Dumville, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, River Valley Sun