CASPER, Wyo. — Saved souls might find themselves lost again unless they have a map to find their way around the sprawling new Highland Park Community Church.
But in spite of its 104,000-square-foot footprint, the church's 3,000 members followed a plan to make it feel like home, administrative pastor Marc Sundstrom said.
“The thinking here was functionality,” Sundstrom said at the beginning of a tour starting from the church's offices in a building in east Casper south of the Elkhorn Valley Rehabilitation Center and nestled against a low hill.
Church members and leadership took a cue from medieval European cathedrals that rose hundreds of feet with high ceilings for light to stream through windows and to create a perception of transcendence, he said. On the other hand, the stone and glass are modern, skylights add natural light, and the beige and sage color schemes adapted from northern Rockies landscapes are intended to calm and welcome, Sundstrom said.
“They (visitors and worshipers) don't feel like it's above them or beyond them,” he said.
Several of the larger rooms feature “cloud ceilings” with netting that both enhances acoustics and masks otherwise hard, unfriendly ceiling surfaces, he said. “You feel like you're in a big living room,” Sundstrom said.
However, that big living room feeling doesn't encourage couch potato laziness.
“We want to lead people into the presence of God,” Sundstrom said.
Participation was primary for the church and the building's architects, Sundstrom said. “They tried their hardest not to (mimic) a 'performance.'”
The main worship action occurs in the first-floor, 1,140-seat sanctuary where the back of the room is on the same level as the stage with the preaching and singing. The floor slopes gently toward the front, with the seats in a wide semi-round layout.
Unlike the church's old sanctuary in the former LaBelle's department store, no support columns interrupt any views. An unused balcony probably will be upgraded in a few years to add another 630 seats.
“It doesn't feel massive,” Sundstrom said.
The church employs choirs and live music to encourage standing and singing as worshipers follow the lyrics shown on overhead screens on either side of the stage, he said. All the audiovisual equipment in the sanctuary is new, and it can accompany guest artists and speakers with their own equipment, Sundstrom said.
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The audio-visual equipment elsewhere in the building came from the former church building at 411 S. Walsh Drive, he said.
Drama areas and a green room for performers are behind the main sanctuary, and a choir room for 60 singers and instruments is off to its side. The spacious west-facing atrium — glass and steel and a fireplace — greets the worshipers and visitors.
The Friday night “Celebrate Recovery” — for “those dealing with hurts, habits and hang-ups” — starts with dinner in the atrium, Sundstrom said. The atrium also will serve as a reception area after weddings or funerals are performed in the 300-seat chapel to north.
Elsewhere on the first floor:
A missions map with an interactive screen showing the locations of missionaries supported by the church, Sundstrom said. “We're very focused on sending people and money ($600,000 annually) overseas,” he said.
A library and other resource areas.
A welcome center where newcomers may receive a Bible and a map for navigating the premises.
The children's worship center. The latter feature incorporates a sophisticated check-in system, classrooms for different ages, kid-sized bathrooms, a central area for live drama, and nowhere to sit other than the padded floor, Sundstrom said. “Kids don't need chairs,” he said.
The computer check-in system gives parents a password to access their account and learn what room their child will be in, Sundstrom said. It became necessary in new church design because of concerns that a single parent with custody could drop off a child to Sunday school and the noncustodial parent could stop by to illegally pick up the child, he said.
The area also features a system for staff and volunteers to immediately lock down and shelter children in case of an incident of violence elsewhere in the building, Sundstrom said.
On the second floor — keep your map handy — Highland Park offers another reception area, offices for staff and pastors, a conference room and the Healing Place for counseling.
Finally, a third of the top floor is occupied by the student ministries center done up in sleek industrial metal decor, with a mezzanine accessible by spiral staircases, a 24-track theatrical lighting system, a stage for bands, a lounge area and the coffee bar “Mission Grounds”: “killer coffee, kids with a mission.” It would seat more than 500 students , if they wanted chairs — which they usually don't, Sundstrom said. “It's real fluid, real easy to reconfigure.”