Project Manager for Belinda Stewart Architects, Stephanie Stewart said many of the comments she has heard after the renovation were, “It looks like it was always suppose to be like this.”
That commitment to restoring the historical accuracy of Eupora’s First Baptist Church sanctuary has brought Belinda Stewart Architects and First Baptist Church of Eupora state-wide recognition. On Tuesday, the FBC Eupora Restoration Project was one of 40 projects throughout the state of Mississippi to receive a 2014 Heritage Award. The award for restoration was presented at a special luncheon at 11:30 a.m. today at the J.J. Rogers Building in Tupelo as part of the Listen Up! Historic Preservation Conference.
Lolly Barnes, executive director of the Mississippi Heritage Trust, said this year, the organization will honor 49 individuals, civic organizations and governmental entities that “have made the preservation of our rich architectural heritage a priority” at the Heritage Awards Luncheon in Tupelo.
“The members of the First Baptist Church are to be commended for their proactive approach to caring for their treasured historic church and restoring the sanctuary to its former glory,” Barnes said. “This act of stewardship will ensure that the church will be a place of celebration and worship for generations to come.”
Stewart said the goal in any renovation project is not to make the building look like an architect has been there – but to make the space reveal it’s actual identity.
“This sanctuary has housed such amazing events from weddings, funerals, life memories for it’s parishioners and most importantly worship,” Stewart said. “We were mindful of these memories and the futures hopes and desires for the worship experiences within this house of God.”
Stewart, a member of FBC Eupora, served as the designer for this renovation project. She has had her own relationship and family history to the space. She said her understanding of the space was invaluable to the design of the renovation project.
“Working with the church renovation committee facilitated great design, with the talented and knowledgeable committee members input,” Stewart said.
Stewart said they had to do some digging to find the original wood floor under the existing carpet, and also to change mindsets to accept a new flooring plan.
“Once we determined that the acoustics would benefit from a new flooring plan/covering plan, the pieces started falling in to place,” Stewart said. “We found other tidbits of architectural history throughout the project, including a well under the podium and several different floor frames for the choir loft.”
Several church members stopped by to see the well, and a few had photos of the house that was on the site before the present sanctuary was built in 1949. The original church was a white frame building built in 1891. A second building was built in 1912 on the site now occupied by CB&S Bank. The education building was added to the existing sanctuary in 1965, and the Family Life Center was built in 1997.
“We see the award as a way to celebrate the project, all the partners in this project and reward the effort expended to create such a special place,” Stewart said. “In any construction project, the process can be tiresome, and these celebrations once the project is complete, bring the construction process clarity and perspective. We really care about our community and as a firm, we see these awards as a way to celebrate the community, their heritage and hopes.”
“Renovation, remodeling or construction projects can be very challenging,” said Rev. Travis Gray, pastor of FBC Eupora. “Most people think they are great ideas as long as somebody else will do all the work. Our sanctuary renovation was very challenging but the finished product was worth the effort. I believe that our sanctuary renovation not only made the building more beautiful, but it also made the body of believers stronger. So many people gave of their time, talents and resources to make the renovation possible. The minor inconveniences reminded us that it is not all about us. We need to be extremely thankful that we are so blessed to have the facilities that we have to be stewards of. May we forever use them to show the lost the beauty of Jesus. Thanks to everyone who let His love shine through them.”
For more information about Mississippi Heritage Trust, go to http://www.mississippiheritage.com.
See this story in the June 11, 2014 edition of The Webster Progress Times at http://websterprogresstimes.com/2014/06/12/church-sanctuary-restoration-wins-award/
Portions of this story were also published in the First Baptist Church of Eupora weekly newsletter at BR Newsletter 6-5-14