If you go
Covenant Presbyterian Church
Where: 6926 Trail Blvd., Naples
Worship times: 9:30 a.m., Combined Worship; 11 a.m., Sunday School for all ages; 6 p.m.
More information: (239) 597-3464 or covenantnaples.com
6926 Trail Blvd., Naples, FL
NAPLES — During one of the worst economic climates, members of Covenant Presbyterian Church in Naples trusted their need for a new sanctuary would be heard.
Today, its members are celebrating in a new 32,506-square-foot worship center that opened in June.
The church, led by the Rev. Bob Petterson, has had growing pains for years. Despite being located on a 16-acre campus with a half dozen buildings, the church comprised many structures dating back to the congregation’s founding in the late 1960s.
“I used to say that we had a big curb but not much appeal,” Petterson joked on a recent Sunday while showing off the church’s new worship and children’s center, located on a quarter-mile stretch of U.S. 41 between Vanderbilt Beach and Pine Ridge Roads.
Longtime church members say several building plans over the years never got off the ground. But in the last five years, membership has blossomed. Parishioners credit their all-night prayer vigils for attracting families with young children to the church, while at the same time appealing to baby boomers.
Making the leap
In 2008, with its congregation bursting at the seams, members renewed their determination to rejuvenate the sanctuary and existing buildings, which included a fellowship hall, educational and office buildings, and worship space once used by other church congregations.
Plans to renovate the campus were cost-prohibitive, and constructing all new buildings came with a hefty $17 million price tag. Instead, church members decided to tackle new construction projects little by little. The first phase, new worship and children’s center, addressed Covenant’s immediate need.
“By faith, we just believed,” says Petterson of the construction plans.
After a three-year building campaign that netted $10 million — the entire cost of the project — and more than a year of construction, church members are settling into their new space. June 12 marked the first service in the new sanctuary, and several of Covenant’s previous pastors returned for the celebration.
The two-story building features wall-to-ceiling arched windows, eight classrooms, two nurseries and a state-of-the art audio/video room.
“The windows say ‘come in,’ like a big hug,” Petterson says with a smile.
The lobby offers an appealing welcome center and gathering space complete with a catering kitchen. Three starlight chandeliers, designed to represent the Holy Spirit, and shine around the clock from the sanctuary, visible to drivers who pass by the church along U.S. 41 north of Pine Ridge Road.
The focal point of the interior is the sanctuary’s 28-foot-tall wooden cross. Hand carved by woodworkers from Thomas Riley Artisans’ Guild, the fixture was designed to resemble gnarled trees in the Garden of Gethsemane, where Jesus is believed to have prayed with his disciples before his crucifixion.
“We wanted to build a cross that was rugged and that reminds us that we are a family because Jesus died in a cruel way,” noted Petterson. “It dominated everything.”
With seating for nearly 700, almost double the size of Covenant’s previous worship space, church members can watch the service on large video screens placed just below either side of the massive cross, which also display Bible verses used in sermons or song lyrics. Old-fashioned pews have given way to more modern seating, and despite the large space, there’s an intimate feeling.
“It seems big, but not too big,” says Sherry Smith, a church member and employee.
“The building is wonderful,” adds Betty Summers, whose husband is the church’s visitation pastor. “But more importantly, the presence of the Lord is here.”
To cater to younger families, parents who want to check their children into one of the two nurseries or have them attend the special Sunday kids’ worship service simply find one of the kiosks located in the lobby or outside the children’s wing. There they can use the standing keyboard to type their child’s name. A computer program prints out a name tag for their child to wear.
Upstairs, Sunday school classes occupy several classrooms. During a second phase of Covenant’s construction project, those classrooms will be removed to make way for a balcony, which will add about another 300 seats to the sanctuary, bring the total capacity to nearly 1,000.
“We think it’s purely God’s grace that in the worst economic climate, we can see Him work this way,” Petterson says of the new building.
Petterson says the church raised three times what a professional fundraising firm estimated could be achieved. Efforts seemed stalled after members had contributed more than $8 million to the project. But on the same day Petterson learned of the final $10 million construction price tag, the church received a $1.6 million donation, fully funding the project. Construction began in April 2010.
All the ministers at Covenant hope the new building also provides new beginning for the church family. Their goal is to expand the church’s ministry throughout Naples and Collier County.
“We want to be part of the community,” explains Petterson. “We’re not interested in being closed off.”
To that end, during the weeks before the new sanctuary opened, church members participated in a project that provided 600 meals to community members. In February, congregants will hold another community feeding event with 500 volunteers. Plans to live-stream weekly services on the Internet are about one month away, and Petterson says televised services aren’t far behind, either.
Open to all
There’s no secret that Covenant wants to attract a new generation of churchgoers. Yet Petterson emphasizes it also welcomes the time, talent and donations more mature members can provide.
“These baby boomers were raised in the ’60s and ’70s with a social conscience,” says Petterson. “They’re not just going to play golf all day. We want to get them involved in missions in India, Africa, the Caribbean and Latin America. We hope to raise a force that will be involved.”
“What I love most about this church is how all the generations interact,” adds member Jocelyn Landis. “We all come together.”
Church members will have to come together once more to raise the funds needed for phase two of construction, which will expand the sanctuary, renovate a free standing adult education building (that will connected to the worship center) and build a prayer walk around the church lake. Petterson says it will be at least one year before additional fundraising talks are discussed. Until then, members will enjoy the special moments their new worship center will provide.
“We’re letting the Lord lead us,” says Petterson. “He’s been so incredible to us so far. We’re really excited about the future, but it’s all in His hands.”