Valley Brook, a Columbia-based nondenominational Christian church that has had success wooing the "unchurched," will break ground next week on a new community and worship center in Clarksville.
The $1.2 million center will be built on 18 acres on Hall Shop Road, just south of Route 32. The site, which the church purchased for $350,00 in 1990, is about a mile west of the Village of River Hill, the 10th and final village developed by the Rouse Co. in Columbia.
Church administrators said construction should be complete by spring.
"We want this to be more than just another building. Hopefully, it will be a bridge to the community," said Rob Lamp, a co-founder and administrative pastor at Valley Brook.
"Our goal is to make this more like a community center than a church, a place where people will feel comfortable coming with their spiritual questions for answers."
The new center's auditorium will seat 600 for Sunday worship services and other events.
Valley Brook has about 300 members, but the congregation is growing about 25 percent annually, Mr. Lamp said.
Most parishioners are from Columbia and from the Burtonsville and Olney areas of Montgomery County, he said.
Valley Brook is one of several Christian churches in the Baltimore area taking a nontraditional approach to religion.
Its two Sunday services have a theatrical flair, with an emphasis on live contemporary music and skits aimed at dramatizing the conflicts of daily life.
There are no altars, crosses, crucifixes, candles or vestment-clad clergy. Its three pastors focus teachings on how the Christian faith can help in managing the rigors of modern life.
In keeping with Valley Brook's nontraditional approach, administrators had the center's architect steer clear of traditional church designs.
The two-story, 24,000-square-foot center will have a contemporary public building design.
"We wanted the building to look and feel of a performing arts center rather than a church," said Mr. Lamp.
"There will not be a lot of emphasis on religious artifacts and icons inside. We didn't want people to feel intimidated about just stopping by and coming in."
The building will include an 8,500-square-foot multipurpose room that church administrators call a "gymatorium."
The room is designed to be used as an auditorium or gymnasium, Mr. Lamp said.
It will be equipped with advanced sound and lighting systems to accommodate Valley Brook's heavy emphasis on including live, contemporary religious music in worship services.
Valley Brook also will use the auditorium for its annual Christmas variety show, which features performances by its parishioners and draws audiences from throughout the county.
The show has been conducted at Howard Community College's Smith Theatre. That is where Valley Brook has held its Sunday services and outreach meetings and classes since the church started seeking a permanent location in 1990.
The church has rented offices in Columbia for administrative needs.
Mr. Lamp said Valley Brook administrators hope to use the multipurpose room to interest new members.
Administrators envision using the room for basketball leagues, dances, family events and concerts.
The center will also have a child care room and about 20 classrooms for pastoral counseling, Bible study, and Christian growth classes.
Connie Passam, a member of Valley Brook since 1987, sat on the steering committee for the community center project.
She said she is excited about the new center because it will address two of Valley Brook's most pressing needs.
"To me, the new center is important for the kids. I grew up in a small town in Kentucky, and the church we went to was a place to go and do activities that were safe and fun. I think that's an important experience for a kid to have."
The new center will allow parishioners who work with the church's child ministries to broaden the activities offered for children, Mrs. Passam said.
"Not having our own building has really limited our activities for kids," she said.
As Valley Brook's membership and activities have grown rapidly during the past four years, so has its need for storage space. Members and administrators now use considerable time and resources hauling equipment -- ranging from toys and carpeting for Sunday day care to musical instruments for worship performances -- between homes, offices and Howard Community College.
"We hear a lot of complaints about all the time and human resources we use just shuffling around," Mr. Lamp said. "So, for a lot of people, the center will indeed be a prayer answered."