Everything that wasn’t nailed down vanished Sunday from the sanctuary at Aulne United Methodist Church, and it wasn’t a magician who made it happen.
About 70 members stayed after the service to move furnishings in the church in preparation for a makeover: New paint, new carpet, and a new ceiling.
The makeover means more to pastor Jeff Lee than a fresh look.
“The church has such a great legacy, and it’s just building on that,” he said. “It’s allowing another generation of worshipers to put their mark on the church, and that’s just great.
Aulne native Kevin Fruechting has attended the church since childhood. He said attendance has grown steadily in recent years, enough so that change was necessary to accommodate it.
“We were having Sundays where people were having to look for places to sit,” he said. We’re averaging 110 to 120 people on Sundays now. Ten years ago, we were probably averaging 70 to 80 at the most.”
Capacity was increased about two months ago, Fruechting said. A library and nursery were converted into an extension of the sanctuary, accommodating about 40 cushioned folding chairs that provide flexible seating options.
Change can be difficult, but Lee said it’s been the opposite in Aulne.
“You know when the preacher isn’t losing sleep over this one that it’s a good thing,” he said. “I’m so pleased with the elder statesmen of the church and how they’ve responded to it. I’ve been in the ministry 30 years and have gone through five building programs, and this has been by far the most pleasurable one.”
Lee said he fields questions from other pastors eager to know what he’s been doing to increase membership.
“We have good music, good people, and I hope good preaching,” he said.
Fruechting said he believes the growth is in part due to a good match between Lee and the congregation.
“Pastor Jeff is a very down-to-earth guy,” he said. “He even jokes that he’s a redneck. Jeff really relates to the rural way of life.”
Fruechting described the Aulne congregation as “a conservative church with good old-fashioned values,” and said Lee’s roots in the Wesleyan Church support that.
“Sometimes with the modern movement of a lot of denominations, we lose some of our transitions, not just of worships, but of theology,” he said. “I believe in the heritage and tradition of Wesleyanism, and I believe at the heart that’s where the Aulne church is.”
Worship services will be held in the church’s fellowship hall during sanctuary renovations, which Fruechting hopes will take about six weeks.
Lee is looking forward to seeing the finished product, but was more enthusiastic about his congregation.
“It’s a beautiful church building, and the most beautiful thing about it is its people,” he said. “If for some reason we were without a church building, those people would make it still a beautiful place out there.”