JOLIET – After five years of planning, Messiah Lutheran Church is moving forward.
On May 7, church members celebrated the groundbreaking of its Family Life Center. Senior pastor the Rev. David Nygard said the new building will host concerts, church dinners and educational programs, as well as recreational and youth activities.
“There will be a stage for plays,” Nygard said. “And we’ll have volleyball and basketball and turn it into classrooms, too.”
Nygard also said the center, which will be the size of a “junior high school gymnasium,” could serve as an emergency center should a disaster – such as a tornado – strike.
“We’re not afraid to try new things,” Nygard said.
Messiah Lutheran acquired most of the building funds over the last three years through a capital campaign, Nygard said.
“So far, we’ve raised a million and a half dollars,” Nygard said, “and that’s about 71 percent of what we need. Our members have been very generous.”
Nygard anticipates the frame will be up by November. Afterward, Messiah’s members will use their skills to complete the actual plumbing and interior work, he added.
“People will be able to give with their talents, too,” Nygard said.
While some churches build additions with the idea that other organizations may occasionally wish to rent space, Nygard said the Family Life Center is intended mainly for Messiah-sponsored events the community may attend.
“For instance, our youth director helps trains youth directors from other churches,” Nygard said. “Other churches can bring their youth here, and the youth directors learn how to minister to their own kids.”
Nygard said Messiah also sponsors a local work camp for hundreds of teens around the country, who build homes for the poor.
“We like to help people,” Nygard said. “We like to make a difference in people’s lives.”
At 900 members strong, Messiah Lutheran has a long history in Joliet, starting in 1901. Its first building was at the corner of Hunter and McDonough streets. It’s still there, Nygard said, home to “ a very nice little Baptist church.”
Messiah moved to the corner of Jefferson Street and Houbolt Avenue in 1981, its current location. Nygard said people consider Messiah an inviting place, where people of all denominations feel welcome.
“We try to have something for everybody,” Nygard said, “but with a Lutheran flavor.”
Even people who think they don’t like church wind up at Messiah for these reasons.
“Many people have given up on churches and their faith,” Nygard said. “But they have to rethink it when they meet a Christian who’s friendly and caring.”
Messiah also has a strong youth presence, another reason for the Family Life Center. About 120 kids participate in Sunday School, Nygard said. Attendees increase to 200 during Vacation Bible School, he added.
About another 30 junior high school students and 30 high school students participate in the youth group, Nygard said. But as beneficial as the Family Life Center will be to existing members, Nygard said the vision extends beyond 2017.
Incidentally, someone from outside the church emphasized that point.
“When we first did the talk about fundraising, we had a guy come in and he said, ‘How many of you remember when the church first came to this corner?’ ” Nygard said.
A few hands went up. And then the man asked the same question for 30 and 25 years ago.
Nygard said the man then added, “In other words, you are benefiting from the sacrifices and love and faith of the people who have gone before you. They sacrificed to give you something – a blessing today. We stand on their shoulders, and that’s what we’re gong to do – build for the generations to come.’”
And Messiah’s membership responded.
“We’ve taught them the joy of giving, of putting the needs of others ahead of their own sometimes,” Nygard said. “And God has honored that.”
For more information on Messiah Lutheran Church, call 815-741-4488 or visit mlcjoliet.org.