The day of celebration finally arrived on Nov. 12 at St. Luke's Church on Pope Avenue.
Guests and congregants celebrated Pastor Greg Kronz's 25 years of service and dedication to the area's oldest church while also celebrating the completion of a three-year, three-phase $3.9 million capital improvement campaign that greatly expanded and enhanced the campus and its services. (The original St. Luke's Parish was established in 1767 in what is now Bluffton.)
Two grand events shared the spotlight on the same day, a Sunday, of course. Following the morning church service, the dedication ceremony heralded the upgrades and new construction. Attendees toured the new facilities, including the dazzling "wall of light" that connects the new Fellowship Hall with the sanctuary.
"We now provide a wonderful space for the congregation to gather and have fellowship, and provide a wonderful space for teachers and additional worship services, space for wedding receptions in the future," Kronz said. "It's been years and years in the making. The facilities were very old and rundown."
The genesis of the capital improvement vision actually took root in 2000. But the recession in 2008 and other external influences dampened the spirited dream.
"It was actually not just three years, but 17 years in the talking and eventual execution of the plan," Kronz said. "This is what we set out to do literally 17 years ago and it's finally come to fruition, the commitment to the Lord, to each other, the commitment of the future of the church and the commitment to the community - it all comes together - and the commitment to souls, that's the bottom line."
Architect Sam McCleskey drew the plans, and the first phase of construction began in the spring of 2014, thanks to the $3.3 million in donations by the 800-member congregation. Churchgoer Norm Galloway spearheaded the effort, and a number of builders were involved.
A complete renovation of the preschool facility set the expansive project in motion. The final structure to be completed was the new Fellowship Hall, formerly the Parish Hall that was demolished and rebuilt. Auditorium seating expanded from 110 to 300; a new stage will host church performances, lectures and visiting Christian events. Banquet capacity grew from 90 to 250.
Along the way, an education wing was built, and a separate mission and ministry building was purchased and rebuilt. State-of-the-art technology was installed campus-wide, and the property's grounds and parking areas received significant upgrades.
New bathrooms were installed and existing bathrooms were expanded. A commercial kitchen was installed, and offices were renovated.
Upon completion of the project, Kronz and other church leaders determined that the newly glistening facility needed some final aesthetic touches. So, St. Luke's assumed a $600,000 loan to replace the sanctuary roofing and give a facelift to two other buildings.
If the dedication ceremony was the climax in the morning, then the 25th anniversary of Kronz's pastorship was the crown jewel late in the afternoon and early evening.
About 250 people packed the new Fellowship Hall, a number of guests addressed the faithful group, family members spoke, as did the bishop who ordained Kronz.
"It was just wonderful," he said. "I think the people recognized my love and commitment to them, and to the Lord and my ministry. My children spoke, and I'm getting teary-eyed right now thinking about what they said. It was very, very touching and a meaningful day."
When Kronz was offered the head position at the church in 1992, he and his wife, Meredith, talked and prayed about the opportunity.
"We agreed that if it worked - meaning if they like me and I liked them - then I would stay until my (three) kids finished high school and would re-evaluate my call there," he said.
He and his wife made a life-changing decision in 2010.
"When Meredith and I went away for a little bit just to re-evaluate, pray about it, think about it, talk about it ... I said to her, 'I wanted a big church, a big city', but the reality was, why would we want to go anywhere else? We love our people, we love where we live, the kids loved coming home, so why would we want to go anywhere else?"
The Kronzs stayed put.
Dean Rowland is a veteran senior editor and freelance writer.