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Church facilitates a 'dream' expansion

Gainesville First United Methodist Church puts children, teens first with new wing

POSTED: August 30, 2014 1:00 a.m.

Gainesville First United Methodist Church recently opened its new children's wing, featuring 10 brand-new preschool classrooms, a multipurpose room and an indoor playground. The church broke ground last spring. The official consecration of the wing will be Sept. 7.

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Gainesville First United Methodist Church believes “children and youth are first.”

To support and care for its youth, the church recently completed construction of a new Children and Youth First Children’s Wing.

Andrew Shaffer, director of discipleship at the church, said children and youth have been an important part of the congregation for decades.

“In the ’80s when we moved the church, we began a preschool,” Shaffer said. “Coming out of that tradition and just moving forward, there was this deep feeling that we wanted to better resource ourselves facility-

wise for our children and youth.”

Dr. Terry Walton, senior pastor, called the facility a “dream.”

“We’ve been dreaming of expanding our facilities for ministry to children for several years, and of course the recession slowed us down a little bit,” he said. “It’s a long time coming.”

The new space includes an indoor playground, a refurbished outdoor playground, 10 new classrooms and several refurbished older classrooms. It also includes state-of-the-art security features to keep children safe.

“Everything is behind

fingerprint-controlled door access, which is just a way to keep our children safe,” Shaffer said. “So our preschool is behind that now, all of our children’s programming is behind that. ... It’s really a leap forward for security. That’s part of a whole risk-management strategy called Safe Sanctuaries that the United Methodist churches in general use.”

The children’s wing also includes a multipurpose room with multimedia capabilities for small and large group activities.

Shaffer said he believes the new facility will help the church “empower future generations for Christ.”

“This is all about the building, but what the building allows us to do is provide different programming,” Shaffer said.

The church currently houses the preschool, various after-school programs, homework help and one-on-one tutoring with community teachers. The multipurpose room will allow for more small- and large-group breakout learning, Shaffer said.

The church plans to split older elementary students out by gender and do gender-

segregated small groups, he said. This format is designed to make young people feel comfortable among their peers, and it allows instructors to connect with them on age-appropriate and developmentally appropriate levels.

Shaffer said this ability is a “huge benefit” to the youth programming at the church.

“Our hope is that, as we do this small group/large group format, you bring them through faith development in progressive stages so that they can really claim the faith on their own and make that part of their own experience,” he said.

Walton said the facility is important because it not only provides for children, but it gives parents encouragement and helps strengthen the faith of the entire family.

“I believe, and I think Gainesville First believes, that children are at the very center of God’s heart and it’s up to us to care for them that cannot care for themselves,” Walton said. “So I’m really proud of the Gainesville First United Methodist Church for living out this dream.”

To celebrate the new wing with the community, Gainesville First United Methodist will host an open house Sept. 7 at 2 p.m. followed by a consecration and worship ceremony at 3 p.m.


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