Growing Belmont parish plans ahead to build new church
BELMONT — For nearly 50 years parishioners of Queen of the Apostles Church in Belmont have used a converted gymnasium as their church, but within a few years that could change. The parish is getting under way with a campaign to build a new church to serve the growing Catholic community just west of Charlotte. It will be a long, detailed process, but it's one the parish thinks will be well worth the effort.
The old gym has "served the community well for a lot of years," says Father Frank Cancro, pastor, because for decades Belmont had been "a bit of a sleepy community." Then, in the 1970s "when the mills closed down, there didn't seem like there was going to be much growth in the area...so the parish still wasn't very large. But with the development that has happened, especially in the last 15 years or more, Belmont has seen some significant growth and the parish has grown significantly."
Pictured: Parishioners crowd into Queen of the Apostles Church in Belmont during a recent Sunday Mass. (Ty Reamer | Catholic News Herald)
In 2007, the parish was comprised of about 460 families. Now, there are almost 900 families. Current growth in the parish is projected at between 80 and 100 families each year.
With the 50th anniversary of the parish approaching in 2015, Father Cancro says, he would like to plan ahead for a new building that could house the growing congregation. "I would like to have something significant here, at least a big significant hole in the ground or a building," he says.
Parishioners have been meeting and forming early plans for a potential building campaign. But there are still many steps ahead for the parish community before any plans can be realized and shovels can be dug into the ground. Those steps cover both the planning as well as the construction of any new church or parish building, and involve many parish and diocesan leaders throughout the process.
First, a pastor must get approval from the chancellor, Monsignor Mauricio West, to begin the planning process and develop a master site plan. Then the design plans for the new worship space must be approved by the diocesan Office of Worship, and a financial plan must be approved by the diocesan Properties and Finance offices. Then the entire project has to go before the diocesan Building Committee for its review. Only after all those steps have been completed may the parish start a capital fund-raising campaign – and even after all that, the parish must have half the cost of the total project in cash in the bank, and at least another 30 percent raised in pledges, before it can break ground. Only 20 percent of a large capital campaign can be financed through a loan, and it must be planned to be paid off within 10 years.
No matter the work involved, though, those who see firsthand the increasingly crowded Belmont parish think the goal is worth working toward.
The parish received permission in 2010 from the diocese to begin the project. The parish hired WKWW Architectural Firm in Charlotte, a firm that exclusively designs churches, and drew up a rough master site plan. No detailed architectural plans have been decided yet, though, and the parish still has to explore how it would pay for the entire project. These decisions will require more committees, more input from the parishioners and more guidance from diocesan leaders.
Parishioner Austin Berrong has attended Queen of the Apostles Church since 2008, and a year later he came into the Catholic Church along with his mother and sister. He remembers, "It was crowded when I first came to the parish, but we only had two Masses on Sunday. Now we have more Masses and it's still crowded. It'll be nice to have more space for the growing parish."
"Right now we're maxed out. We have five Masses on the weekend," Father Cancro adds. "We, unfortunately, have to turn people away some Sundays because of fire regulations. That's terrible. On the one hand, I guess, that's good, but on the other hand that's terrible."
But Father Cancro is also quick to point out that the project is "certainly much bigger than just providing pew space." Not only is the space in the church too small, but, he adds, "the worship space we have now is just not adequate. It's not just an issue of room for seating, there's not adequate room to move around to do rituals well. The sidelines are not adequate, the choir is not in an appropriate place, and some of the furniture is too big. So there's a need not just to create more seating, but to create a worship space that has a certain harmony to it that not only worships God but gives the community that sense of gathering to be church for its sacraments."
The parish would also like appropriate space for faith formation programs.
"Right now the education takes place across the street," Berrong says. Faith formation leaders use the Sacred Heart building on the Sisters of Mercy campus nearby because they lack their own space.
The majority of this growth is from new families moving into the Belmont area. "In fact," Father Cancro notes, it is "young families. The median age of the parishioners has shifted down considerably – it's about 35, which means we have a lot of young families with a lot of young kids." So the building of a new church would pay special attention to the needs of these young families, particularly regarding faith formation.
And, of course, "practically speaking, we need more bathrooms and we need more parking," he adds. The parish also hopes, among other things, for a church library, more storage, and better ways to get on and off the property.
The Belmont Abbey basilica was the only active church for Catholics in and around Belmont until 1965, when Queen of the Apostles began providing a spiritual home for Catholics in Gaston County. With continued population growth in the area, the parish is expecting a steady rise in its numbers. Besides offering multiple Masses during the Christmas and Easter seasons, Father Cancro says, "we have to use TV screens in the hall for overflow." And they may have to start using TV screens every weekend, he suspects. "We're at the point where we're going to have overflow at two of the Masses every weekend. That's just not a good way to be church."
— Christopher Lux, correspondent
So just what does it take to get a new church built? Click here to learn more.
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