This will be the fourth time that Elmira resident Harvey Gingrich will wait with eager anticipation at the opening of Woodside Bible Fellowship; he is one of their founding members.
Next Saturday (Sept. 18) he, along with the 700 members of the congregation will celebrate the opening of a brand new $2.1 million addition to their church.
The church began in October of 1975 when a group of Elmira and surrounding area residents decided that their commute to the Wallenstein Bible Chapel was too far to travel if it was possible to organize a similar group in their own hometown. Unsure of how well the idea would go over at first, organizers happily welcomed 125 new members to their congregation on their first Sunday.
“It was a bit like herding cattle,” said Gingrich with a laugh. “Once a few go to the fence, the rest go too but nobody knows for sure who is going. It typically takes a bit of time for a congregation to split.”
Back then, the sermons were held in the gym at Riverside Public School, one of the only spaces large enough to hold that number of people. Just fewer than two years later, in March of 1977, the group moved to their first official home at Arthur St. and Pintail Dr. Then, as numbers grew and their space at that location proved to be too small, the congregation moved to their current location at Whippoorwill and Barnswallow Drives.
“People thought we were crazy to move from the ideal location where we were to out here in the boonies,” said Gingrich. “This was the edge of town; we called it Woodside because it was literally beside the woods. But we needed the extra space and we knew that someday there would be quite a lot of homes around here. Elmira has expanded quite a bit.”
Now, the church has undergone yet another transformation, this time in the shape of a $2.1 million expansion.
Included in the renovations are a full-height, full-size gymnasium, new change rooms with showers and washroom facilities, a new lower foyer and rear entrance, a café, a youth room and the associated parking lots, sidewalks, landscaping and fire sprinklers.
“Through the years, Woodside has gone from organs and overheads to Power Point presentations and a worship band,” said Pastor Dan Allen who has been with the church for the past six years. “There were a few things that we were lacking and with the renovation we were able to enhance our present ministries and it enabled us to do future ministries, which is great.”
Gingrich agrees that there have been many changes in the church over the years, including new and leading-edge technology, even the demographic of the congregation has changed with fewer farmers attending and an increase in the amount of young families.
“Church is done differently now than it used to be,” he noted. “But from the very beginning, this has been a church that has taught God’s word and believed God’s word. The way we proclaim it may be different, but the message is always the same.”
And next weekend, the folks at Woodside are opening their doors to the whole community and inviting everyone to come and celebrate with them. Included in the festivities will be a kid’s carnival, a gathering of quilters, wooden car racers and a ball hockey tournament featuring the Elmira Sugar Kings and the Elmira Special Olympics team.
“Everyone is welcome to come to the church, not just this weekend but throughout the year. The facilities we have are open to all people in the community, not just those in the congregation,” said Allen. “We are doing all of this because we want to invite everyone to experience life in Christ. It’s not about fancy programs, or simply a place to hang out and grab a coffee. We think those are great things to offer but the reason that we are here is Jesus Christ. He is the draw, not us.”
The Grand Opening will be held Saturday, September 18 from 10 am – 2 pm at Woodside Bible Fellowship, 200 Barnswallow Drive in Elmira. For details call 519-669-1296 or visit www.woodsidechurch.ca.