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"Many Christians today are really drawn to what is sometimes called an 'ancient-future' vibe in worship," says Andrew C. Thompson, senior pastor of First United Methodist Church of Springdale. "They want to be in a space with beautiful stained glass windows and a classic look and feel. Yet they also want to be able to worship with music, lighting and video capabilities that fit with today's technological capabilities. We believe that our renovated chapel does just that."

Completed this month on a budget of $600,000, the renovated chapel on West Johnson Avenue was built in 1936 -- "in the middle of the Great Depression" -- and served as the primary worship space for the church until 1980, when the current sanctuary was constructed. "It is," Thompson says, "the oldest existing part of our church, and it is one of the oldest church buildings in Springdale.

"We believe that renovating the chapel is a project that looks both to the past and to the future," he explains. "It honors the legacy left to us by those generations of faithful Christians who came before us and built the chapel so many years ago. And it also looks to the future by providing a wonderful, classic worship space with a facelift that includes a high quality audiovisual capability that makes it useful for worship in the present day.

"For several years, we have had three worship services in our sanctuary on Sunday morning, at 8:30, 9:45 and 11," he goes on. "That schedule means that there is a very tight timeframe in which to move people in and out, and also to set up for each different service.

"When our congregation began to think about renovating the chapel, the thought occurred to us that we could take that 9:45 a.m. worship service and move it to relieve the pressure of having back-to-back-to-back worship services in the same room each Sunday morning," he says. "What we didn't plan in the beginning -- and what only developed as we thought and prayed and planned over time -- is the idea of making the 9:45 service something completely new. But over time, the idea for Cornerstone took shape, and we felt led by the Holy Spirit to cast a new vision for it."

While Thompson will preach the sermon, worship leader Michael Cooper will be the architect of the new service's music.

"Since I got to know him last fall, I have been so impressed with his humble heart and desire to serve God," Thompson says of Cooper. "He is genuine and authentic, and he's also a Spirit-anointed musician who knows how to lead God's people in worship. Working with him so far has been a blast."

Looking out from the new stage, Cooper says, "I see a beautiful room that is full of people open to God and what he wants for their lives. I am so thankful to be a part of a grace-filled family that really accepts people where they are and honestly shows the love of God!"

"We want Cornerstone to connect with the people of Springdale -- people from all walks of life," agrees Thompson. "We believe that the name 'Cornerstone' fits on many different levels.

"The most important is what the Bible says about it: Ephesians 2:20 tells us that Jesus Christ is the chief cornerstone of the church and of our faith. On another level, here at First United Methodist Church we are embracing the revitalization of downtown Springdale. We are so excited about what is happening down here right now, and with our congregation's long history here, we want to be a cornerstone of a renewed and revitalized downtown. On a third level, the chapel is like the cornerstone of our church campus; it is the oldest part of our building, and it reminds us of who we are and who we want to be. So for us, the name Cornerstone says a lot about our identity and what we want to be for this city."

Thompson, who was called to the ministry at 23 and came to Springdale in June 2015 with wife Emily and children Alice, Stuart and Anna Charlotte, says he finds his ministry at First Church to be "the most challenging and rewarding work I have ever done in my life."

"I have served as a campus minister at a small Christian college, a seminary professor, and a pastor at churches that have ranged from 46 to 800 in average weekly attendance," he says. "At First Church, we believe that faithful discipleship to Jesus will always call us to 'gather, grow, and go.' We gather together in worship; we grow together in study and prayer; and we go into the world in mission. I seek to live out that calling and to help my church live out that calling every day.

"One of the things that we are very intentionally doing with the Cornerstone worship service is asking the Holy Spirit to come and fill us each and every Sunday," Thompson adds. "Second Corinthians 3:17 says, 'Where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.' Through our prayer and praise, we want to invite the Holy Spirit to come into our hearts and our worship to lead us to the heart of Jesus. It is a beautiful and powerful thing!"

NAN Religion on 01/19/2019

Print Headline: The 'Cornerstone' of First Church

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