History of the Lighthouse
When the church’s family life center was still in the early stages, there was no doubt in Janean Hayes’ mind that it should be called The Lighthouse.
“I saw a lighthouse as really reaching far out; the longtime church member said. “We didn’t want this to be a facility just for our members. We wanted to use it to reach out to the community. It would be like the light of Christ shining out over the mountain.”
It was the perfect image, according to Jim Frazier, the church’s director of recreation ministries. “Some people probably think The Lighthouse is just a building where people come and work out and shoot baskets.” he said. “But I always tell people that it’s a tool for ministry. As much as I love this building, it’s what we do outside these walls that really makes a difference.”
Many years later, the impact of the ministry has been even more far reaching than anyone ever imagined.
“We thought we were building a place to come to;• Frazier said. “We found out it’s a place we can send people out from to do God’s work. We’re looking for ever-changing ways to share a never-changing story.”
The idea for The Lighthouse and the church’s leisure ministry was born about five years before the facility opened on August 20, 2000. It originated with three members of a church council committee: Rob Moxley, Louise Barton and Dianne Luketic.
“We started talking about the value of a leisure ministry that would turn into a growth opportunity for the church,” Moxley said. “We knew it could be an entry point for families.”
The idea took a while to catch on. The long-range planning committee was considering building a new sanctuary at the time, but after church leaders presented the idea to focus groups, “we discovered there was much more interest in a family life center than there was in a new sanctuary,” said Ted leach, executive pastor at the time.
“Some churches build a building and then figure out what to do with it and how to staff it.” Leach said. “We decided we would hire a leisure minister first and let that person help design it and figure out what needed to be in it.”
Frazier joined the church staff in September 1996 and started basketball leagues, indoor soccer, Wonderful Wednesdays! and Fall derail, the much-loved annual fall festival that features pony rides, arts and crafts, games and dinner. As those programs grew, more and more church members began to see the impact the leisure ministry could have, he said.
“The idea persisted and eventually prevailed.” Moxley said. “In that prevailing, we’ve had the genesis of some really neat stuff,: I think it has been a good marriage of all the things we wanted it to be- a multi-use facility used by multi-generations.”
It didn’t happen by accident. Dennis Flowers, director of facilities for the church, and Frazier traveled all over the state, visiting churches that already had family life centers. “We went to every single one we could find out about.” Flowers said. “We asked them, ‘If you had to build again today, what would you do differently?’ We talked to people who used the centers, too, not just the people who built them.”
Ground was broken on May 3, 1998, but more delays were in store. A number of neighborhood covenants had to be broken and a majority of those living in nearby houses had to approve the changes. The process was a lengthy one. “I remember joking that we were having the second annual groundbreaking.” Leach said. “It was a year after the original groundbreaking before we actually got going.”
The results were worth the wait. The 26,000 square-foot building houses a fitness center, an indoor track, a full size gymnasium, three mirrored dance studios, a game area with ping pong and pool tables, and multiple classrooms.
That first year, Frazier joined forces with church member Murry Bartow, UAB’s basketball coach at the time, and Father Ed Wilson, the priest at St. Mark’s Episcopal Church. They organized the first of several Making a Difference basketball camps for underprivileged children. Although the camps were a huge success, Frazier said they quickly realized that transportation was a problem for many of the children.
“We decided that if we couldn’t get the kids to The Lighthouse, we’d take The Lighthouse to the kids.” he said. Frazier bought a van from Golden Flake, and transformed it into the Mobile Recreation Vehicle, affectionately known as “The MRV.”
“You name it, it’s on it.” Frazier said of the playground on wheels. There’s a moonwalk, a popcorn machine, two public address systems, soccer goals and balls, water toys, medical supplies and a generator.
“We’ve taken the MRV everywhere- to Greene County, Anniston, Gadsden, and all over inner city Birmingham and the Bessemer area.” Frazier said. “We play games, have arts and crafts and sing-alongs, and sometimes we feed the kids. We always have a devotional and pass out Bibles to the children. We always want them to hear a message.”
The MRV has also had a presence over the years within Vestavia Hills, including the I Love America Day festivities at events at the library and in all the elementary schools. In September, people from all over the community will get to enjoy what the ministry has to offer during the city’s 60th anniversary celebration. “We’ll do what we normally do for Falderall and move it to Vestavia Hills Elementary East for the city’s celebration.” Frazier said. “We’re expanding it to reach more people.”