Westminster Presbyterian Church opens doors on expansion to historic downtown Minneapolis building

The community gathered in the new Westminster Hall to inaugurate the space with the world premiere of “I Will Make a Way,” commissioned for the event. (Photo by Tom Northenscold)

(WESTMINSTER PRESBYTERIAN CHURCH COMMUNICATIONS) Westminster Presbyterian Church opened the doors Sunday, January 14, on its inspiring 41,000-square-foot expansion to its historic building in downtown Minneapolis. The new wing is part of Open Doors Open Futures, an initiative to transform Westminster’s telling presence in the city.

A celebratory, soulful group of musicians from Westminster and its partner churches (Liberty Community Church and Grace-Trinity Community Church) welcomed people to worship celebrating the legacy of Martin Luther King Jr. and featuring guest preacher the J. Herbert Nelson II, stated clerk of the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)

J. Herbert Nelson, II, stated clerk of the General Assembly, served as guest preacher for Westminster Presbyterian Church’s worship on January 14. (Photo by Tom Northenscold)

Tim Hart-Andersen, senior pastor at Westminster, began the morning with a reminder to the congregation: “Today is just the beginning. Many of us have worked long and hard to get to this moment, but our vision of a parking lot has grown into a vision for transforming our presence in the city. Our work is ahead of us.”

Alika Galloway, co-pastor of Liberty, Minnesota’s only primarily African-American PC(USA) congregation, shared the successes of her church’s 21st Century Academy, a rigorous after-school and summer academic program partially funded by Open Doors Open Futures. Daniel Vigilante, pastor of Grace-Trinity, described the support his congregation received from Westminster’s campaign. Five years ago, the congregation had expected to close because of dwindling numbers and resources when Westminster and Grace-Trinity formed a unique partnership. Today, Grace-Trinity is thriving and nearly self-supporting.

In a deeply moving sermon, Nelson spoke of the need to “get real about those being left behind.” He urged the congregation to listen to what God is calling them to be, especially in the beautiful new spaces created by Open Doors Open Futures. “Be consumed not with the love of this building but by a love of this community,” he told worshippers. “Use this space wisely. You have much and have already used it for the glory of God. Take it and do a whole lot more. Let the world know you are standing firm.”

Worship concluded with “The Litany for a New Day,” which offered these words: “We hope this is where new life happens, where friendships are made and children are loved, where hands serve and prophetic voices are nurtured out of silence, where good news is proclaimed in a broken world and radical hospitality is our daily practice, where you, O God, are worshipped and another generation experiences resurrection.”

Following worship, the congregation cut the “ribbons” on the expansion, which were actually handcrafted banners created by Beth Hart-Andersen from textiles donated by Westminster members. Drummers led a procession of nearly 1,100 people out into the new wing and down the four-story “Trinity Staircase” (and adjacent elevators) into the new 300-stall underground parking garage. Outside temperatures below zero led to a brisk and festive blessing of the garage.

Westminster youth carried cloth banners, created by the Beth Hart-Andersen from textiles donated by Westminster members, down the Trinity Staircase for a blessing of the church’s new underground garage. (Photo by Tom Northenscold)

As the group sang “Amazing Grace,” they made their way back up to the first floor to inaugurate Westminster Hall with the premiere of composer Tom Trenney’s “I Will Make a Way,” a setting of Isaiah 43:19, commissioned by Westminster for the occasion. Tesfa Wondemagegnehu, Westminster’s director of choral ministries, led the Westminster Choir in a performance that showed off the magnificent acoustics of the space.

The new hall will allow the church to diversify its worship offerings as well as fulfill long-unmet needs for community meetings and congregational celebrations. “Westminster Hall is the heart of the new first floor expansion,” said Hart-Andersen. “It will allow us to worship in a new key. The city is right here,” he said, gesturing to a full-length wall of glass overlooking Westminster Plaza on Nicollet Mall. “We can see the city and it can see us.”

The hall comfortably accommodates up to 400 people. State-of-the art lighting and acoustics allow for a wide array of programming. Sunlight passes through a tree-like canopy overhead, speaking to passages in scripture that reference the power and symbolism of nature and life’s cycles.

James Dayton, the lead architect, thanked the congregation for its steadfast support of the project. “My firm does this work every day, but you don’t,” he said. “You had to learn a whole set of skills. And you did. This building makes manifest the faith of this congregation. Thank you for allowing us to be part of this.”

A new building for a changing community
“Westminster is a church open to creative new ways to serve and engage the city,” said Hart-Andersen. “This new wing gives us the tools to do that: easy access, multi-use space, enhanced technology, inspired green design, and much more.”

Westminster is planning two new worship services for Westminster Hall: starting February 14, a 6:30 p.m. Wednesday contemplative service called “The Clearing,” and in September, a 5 p.m. Sunday service.

Members of Westminster Presbyterian Church gathered for worship celebrating the legacy of the Martin Luther King Jr. (Photo by Tom Northenscold)

The new Recreation Room and adjacent Youth Room offer open, youth-friendly places for Westminster’s young people as well as youth groups from all over the country who often need a place to connect and stay.

In partnership with Hennepin County Library, Westminster will host an onsite senior community center two days per week to respond to the needs of the downtown seniors dispersed by the recent closures of two senior centers in the area.

The Westminster Counseling Center — which the church has long supported with funding, office space and administrative support — has offices on the second floor of the new expansion.

The expansion will also soon house the Harman Center for Child & Family Wellbeing, a new campus and innovative early intervention clinic of St. David’s Center. The center will occupy approximately 8,000 square feet of space on the second floor, and will primarily serve children birth to age five who have experienced relational trauma. Services will include an infant team to assess and treat families with children in out-of- home placement, children’s mental health services and pediatric rehabilitative therapies, a clinical training site for graduate students in mental health, and a new home for the Center’s day treatment program for young Somali children diagnosed with autism. The Harman Center will open its doors this April.

Cutting-edge environmental design
Environmental considerations were paramount in the new indoor and outdoor spaces. The outdoor areas will reduce the heat island effect and complement the Downtown Minneapolis 2025 Plan through creation of much-needed green space, areas of respite for the public to enjoy, and a skyway connection. Environmental leadership for the project includes:

  • High-efficiency building design and mechanical and air filtration;
  • LED lighting, with 95 percent of the building designed to receive natural light to reduce need for artificial lighting;
  • A 9,000-square-foot green roof;
  • Permeable pavers to control water flow into storm drains and a system to capture and store rainwater for reuse to irrigate trees and plants and flush toilets;
  • Participation in a community solar garden program to provide 100 percent of Westminster’s electricity and to offset energy demand.

The outdoor spaces, designed by Hoerr Schaudt Landscape Architects, include Westminster Plaza, conceived as a civic and spiritual “town square,” busy with the activity of both the church and the city throughout the week, and all seasons of the year; Westminster Green, with lush plantings and trees, comfortable benches, a green lawn for outdoor play, and an adjacent drive to improve access to the church; and a Meditation Garden, a wonderfully private, contemplative green space created by dense plantings and accessed from within the church.

Mission funding in addition to the expansion
The congregation raised $61.5 million in gifts and pledges from its members for Open Doors Open Futures. The balance of the project came from a $20 million loan from the Presbyterian Investment and Loan Program. The campaign provided $8 million for mission projects that support building the Harman Center; affordable housing; college access and leadership training for young adults; urban ministries; peacemaking through PC(USA) ministry in South Sudan; and global ministry partnerships in Cuba, Cameroon and Palestine.

A series of inaugural events
January 14 marked the first in a series of inaugural events for Westminster. Upcoming are: Bold Hope in the North, on January 28, an official event of Super Bowl Host Committee-sponsored event supporting Downtown Congregations to End Homelessness; a concert featuring Cantus on March 2; a community open house on March 3; the grand opening of the Harman Center on April 17; an all-church celebration on May 5; and a festival celebrating Palestinian art and culture May 17–19.

Kathy Graves is a communications consultant who provides communications services for Westminster Presbyterian Church. She is the recipient of a Minnesota Newspaper Award for feature writing and a silver award from the Minnesota Magazine & Publishing Association for excellence in profile writing.