In the early 1980s the women printed and sold Christmas cards that featured the luminarias on the sidewalks and lights in the orange trees. During the early years, 200 candles were placed by families who volunteered. They are lit during the early service for the congregation when they leave, and they last through the midnight service. Today it’s an all-church project.
In 2020 during the COVID epidemic, the Christmas Eve service was held outside like a drive-in movie. Volunteers placed 800-900 luminaria around the church grounds and the parking lot.
Rev. Souers received his Elder’s Ordination in the United Methodist Church. He has a Bachelor of Science with majors in Social Science and Radio and Television Communication and a Master of Divinity from Garrett School of Theology of Northwestern University.
Rev. Souers had been the pastor at Methodist churches in Illinois, each with membership growth, new facilities, and awards. He has also received two years of Clinical Pastoral Education.
On Sunday, March 8, 1981, Rev Souers preached Small Hinges That Open Big Doors from Revelation 3:20, “Behold, I stand at the door and knock; if anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with him, and he with me.” He followed the sermon with a solo. At the Congregational Meeting that followed the vote was unanimous in favor of Rev. Souers as Senior Pastor.
With his leadership the sanctuary was expanded, and the Sunday school classroom wing and fellowship hall were built. To show the congregation’s appreciation for his guidance the fellowship hall was dedicated as Souers Hall.
For 44 years the back wall of the sanctuary was white stucco. In 1982, Rev. Souers presented to the Board of Managers an idea for a wooden wall designed to be a place to display plaques denoting memorials given in honor of Church members and families. It was felt that some items purchased don’t last and it would be nice to have a record of the memorial on a plaque.
A memorial was used to build the wall which initially was only one section on either side of the doors. In 1987 the decision was made to purchase four more panels, two for each side, to extend the wall to the corners.
In 1982, the Long-Range Planning Committee came to the Board of Directors with four specific areas of concern: sanctuary expansion, land acquisition, an activities center, and a columbarium. With a motion to move forward, the Church launched a building campaign to fund expansion of the sanctuary with a columbarium, a Sunday school wing, and a social hall.
Rev. Souers coined the project name: “PAX: Preservation And eXpansion.” Over the next 15 years the congregation raised $1.5 million and donated time, expertise, and in-kind donations to create the buildings enjoyed today by this congregation. At no time has any loan been taken; this church is owned free and clear.
The sanctuary was expanded on the west end in 1984 to include 14 more pews, a choir room, a sacristy, and a utility room; the church could hold 300, up from 192, for a single service. The Garden of Memories columbarium was created at the same time, along with a new parking lot. Both were dedicated in December 1985. The total cost was $565,000.
The Sunday school wing was dedicated September 13, 1992. It included three classrooms, a nursery, and a kindergarten room. The Palm Court was included in this phase. The total cost was $324,068.
In 1992 the congregation voted to build a social hall but only when sufficient funds were on hand. By 1995 the bid was increasing, with a shortfall of $105,000, the Church voted to start building. This phase was dedicated March 31, 1996, named in honor of Rev. Judson Souers for his vision and leadership during the PAX project. This phase included the social hall, the breezeway, and the stage at the south end of the Palm Court. The total cost was $589,433.
The "PAX Tree of Appreciation" is located in Souers Hall designed to honor all who supported the PAX.
The Easter cross began in 1984 as a cross draped in purple and crowned with thorns for the Maundy Thursday service as a reminder of the ultimate price paid by God to redeem us. Then on Easter Sunday the Sunday school children turned it into a living cross with cut flowers becoming an inspiring symbol of life for our Savior and for us. The following year, a more permanent cross was built and was covered with chicken wire to allow for many more flowers.
Prior to the 1985 sanctuary renovation there are pictures of Easter Lilies in the chancel area in the form of a cross. It was in 1987 that Tom Fischrup and Bill Tainter, Sr. constructed a collapsible cross stand for the Lily plants. That year the congregation purchased 104 lilies. The stand was used until 1990. Today the lilies are placed on kneeling cushions along the railing
In the late 1980's Joe Smith, member and talented woodworker, crafted the sanctuary baptismal font used today. It was dedicated in the memory of Pastor James Ostergren. The women of the church made what they called Baptism Napkins with an embroidered gold cross, done in satin stitch. They were 9”x12” and made from white cotton.
The unique portion of Reverend Souers’ baptism was following the ceremony he walked down the center aisle presenting the baby to the congregation while he sang “Amen” in his deep baritone voice. In 2004, Rev. Swicegood and the Council on Ministries published the statement “Baptism is the sacrament that unites us with Jesus Christ and makes us members of God’s family, the church.” In 2009, the Church purchased a portable baptistery allowing those being baptized to select immersion.
On March 27, 1988 there was only one service held at 10:30 followed by a noontime meal celebration. Following the ringing of the church bell and the trumpet fanfare there was a processional hymn The Church’s One Foundation.
The sermon, by Rev. Souers, was Thank God, U-Boats and Boll Weevils referring to the reasons Paul Litchfield and Goodyear Tire and Rubber Company came to this area to grow cotton. Solos included The Palms by Bud McIntosh, and The Lord’s Prayer by Rev. Souers.
Hymns sung by the congregation were All Hail the Power of Jesus’ Name and America. The choir sang A Blessing of Peace. The program was a booklet titled Celebrating Fifty Years Dedicated to the Glory of God and the Good of All Mankind. A catered luncheon was served under tents on the lawn in front of the colonnade.