In the summer of 1998, Blue Ridge added another dimension to its worship life by offering a contemporary worship service at 9:30 A.M. The music program of the church expanded with the addition of the Cornerstone Praise Band. This group offered music with a “beat” and promised to appeal to all ages. Today this continues to be our fastest growing service.
Early in 1997, the congregation learned that for a long time the organ had needed major repairs. Some 30 notes were “dead” and several of the organ pipes were falling over. Because Linda Mann was such as outstanding organist, she had been able to “play around” these problems. The organ was valued at $280,000 and the needed repairs would total about $20,000. The membership was asked to make one-time gifts toward this project. The response to this need was outstanding and the project was funded in a couple of months. Because the pipes had to be manufactured in Europe, it took several months for the job to be completed. The newly restored organ was being played by Christmas of 1997 and was dedicated in January of 1998.
In November of 1991, the Annual Church Conference gave approval for the creation of a Building Study Committee to create proposals for Sanctuary renovation and Narthex expansion. The goal was to enhance congregational involvement, and improve conditions for worship, special services and presentations. The basic areas of need were identified and the architectural firm of Mantel and Teter was retained in July 1993 to assist in determining the feasibility and cost of the concepts developed. On May 13, 1996, a special Envoy (the weekly church newsletter) was sent to members of the church outlining the final concepts developed that would remodel the existing sanctuary, enlarge the entry way, add restrooms on the first floor near the sanctuary, incorporate choir and bell practice rooms in the addition’s downstairs, and add a reception room upstairs that would be reached by a covered entry on the east side. The towering, mostly glass, entry on the west side of the church would seem to reach out to the community urging them to enter. In June of 1996, a formal Building Committee was chosen to more fully explore and develop a detailed set of plans and cost estimates. The Committee was Dwight Robinson, Chairman; Gary Sidebottom, Terry McCarty, Mark Culley, Colleen Aufdembrink, Margaret Strader, Dudley Leonard, Duane Holder, Tom Bullock, Marge Fredrickson, and Rick Hammett.
In 1997 the plans were completed and presented to the congregation. The members then had many opportunities to meet with the committee for questions and suggestions. On May 21, at a congregational meeting, there was a vote to accept the preliminary plans as presented by the Building Committee. The Development Foundation was the organization chosen to help design the financial program for the renovation and expansion.
Selecting the theme “Opening Our Doors to the Future,” a three-year financial pledge campaign started early in 1998. By the end of March those pledges had topped a million dollars. Mantel and Teeter were directed to complete detailed drawings which were approved April 6, 1999. David E. Ross Construction Company from Raytown was approved as the general contractor for the project at a cost not to exceed approximately 1.4 million dollars. The church would enter into additional contracts and retain a contingency amount that could extend the scope of the project to 1.9 million. The congregation was asked to keep in mind that $250,000 of this amount was updating and repairs on items that had been neglected in the church for several years.
Groundbreaking for the construction was held on July 11, 1999. Representatives from David E. Ross Construction and Mantel and Teeter Architects were present as well as the Building Committee. Four members—Florence Hartman, Steve Schwieterman, Andrew Mitchell, and Emily Carney–representing the congregation each turned over a shovel of dirt to symbolize the beginning of construction. Scaffolding was moved into the Sanctuary by the first of August and the Sunday morning worship service was moved to the Fellowship Hall. The congregation was able to move back to the Sanctuary by the end of November.
On January 23, 2000, a “Grand Day of Praise” took place in the sanctuary as the church’s new grand piano was dedicated and used to praise God. The piano was dedicated to the memory of Phyllis and Sam Chullino, Betty Davenport, Martha Keeton, and Lillie Manning.
An Open House was held on April 15, 2000, to see the completed work and the Consecration Service was held on June 11, 2000. The service was led by Reverend Rick Hammett and District Superintendent Kyle Hern. Remarks were made by Dwight Robinson, Chairman of the Building Committee, as well as representatives of Mantel and Teeter and David E. Ross Construction Company. At the time of construction, Dudley Leonard was Chairman of the Administrative Council and Arlene Welch was President of the UMW.
Many improvements had been made to the sanctuary. The front was enlarged to enhance congregational involvement and improve conditions for special services and programs. This space, also, made possible the addition of the grand piano. The divider on the north side was removed as well as the choir loft. The choir would sit on removable chairs facing the congregation. Several front pews were removed so the chancel area could be expanded, and the riser width increased. The communion rails and the pulpit were now removable. Improved lighting and sound equipment, as well as a video system, allowed for greater joy in worship.
New furnishings were added to the new entry area, known as the Beatitude Room, as donations and memorials became available.
In May of 2000, Jan Bond was appointed to Park United Methodist Church in Hannibal, Missouri. Judy Slimmer, from North Cross United Methodist Church, was appointed to be our Associate. District Superintendent Kyle Hern was sent to Jefferson City, Missouri and the new DS was Ken Lutgen.
After being in existence since 1961, The Kansas City South District ended in the year 2000. District lines were redrawn, and Blue Ridge Boulevard United Methodist became part of the new Heartland Central District.