Bulldozers pave way for church’s future

Pastor Troy Schmidt of Gethsemane Lutheran Church in Tempe keeps a hard hat on his desk.

Bulldozers make way for a renovated Gethsemane Lutheran Church in Tempe. (Wrangler News photo)

By Joyce Coronel

Pastor Troy Schmidt of Gethsemane Lutheran Church in Tempe keeps a hard hat on his desk. “It can get pretty loud,” he said of the construction work thrumming along outside his window. “I’m supposed to wear a hard hat when I’m on the site.”

The 40-year-old church is undergoing $3.8 million renovation that will enlarge its worship space and refresh the entire church and school campus. Schmidt, who’s been pastor for the last eight years, admitted that watching the demolition was a bit tough.

“This is a big step of faith. It’s difficult watching it come down because you’re remembering all of the things that happened in the building.”

Bulldozers knocked down walls and the church’s bell tower that had stood high over Tempe for decades. The bell was removed and will be part of a new tower that will rise over the next few months. Some of the church’s original structure will remain standing and serve as the lobby in the new building, Schmidt said. That move not only reduced the overall cost of the project, it also allows the legacy of the past to flow into the present and future.

“The center of our campus, the focal point of who are, is the old existing sanctuary. We’re building this new facility around it, so it will still be a gathering point for people,” Schmidt said. 

Debris is being hauled away from the area that’s separated from the church office and school by a chain link fence. Jackhammers pounding away at cement made such a ruckus one day, Schmidt said, that books tumbled off the bookshelf near the window of his office. While the demolition and subsequent construction are underway, the congregation is meeting in Gethsemane’s gymnasium.

“It’s kind of like moving in with your brother while your new house is getting built. We’ve got stuff everywhere,” Schmidt said. “It’s hard right now because we’re watching things go away. We’re awaiting the next stage.”

So far, $1.7 million has been raised or pledged toward the massive project. The church was built in the 1970s and has had a school from the very beginning.

It’s time to do a new building,” Schmidt said. “Part of what we’re struggling with is that we’re out of land. It’s that tearing down to build new—there’s a lot of emotional baggage that goes with that. There’s 40 years of history in that building—40 years of memories.”

Some of the members of the congregation have been there since the beginning, when nearby office buildings were acquired and turned into school classrooms. Gethsemane has an 8 a.m. traditional service that attracts these older members, as well as a more contemporary service at 10 a.m. 

“Our average age is in the 30s which is pretty young for churches nowadays. It’s because of all the children,” Schmidt said. About 50-60 volunteers run the Sunday morning youth programming. The church has about 900 members.

The construction project is slated to be completed in late November and if all goes according to schedule, Schmidt said they’re hoping to have Christmas Eve services in the new structure.