FORT WORTH -- Arborlawn United Methodist Church's new $12 million sanctuary looks like a towering cruise ship. It's meant to be that way.
"It's to remind us of Noah's ark of the Old Testament, of Jesus' ministry on the Sea of Galilee and that the church is to be a safe harbor from the storms of life," said Tom Stoker, minister of worship.
The shiplike building will be christened at 7 p.m. Sunday with a free public concert of American music honoring the victims and heroes of 9-11.
The Rev. Ben Disney, senior pastor, said the concert will remember the tragedy of 9-11 and note the creation of Arborlawn on another Sept. 11 when two Fort Worth churches -- Westcliff United Methodist and Overton Park United Methodist -- merged.
"This year, Sept. 11 marks a decade since the United States experienced tremendous loss of life, confidence and safety," Disney said. "It is also a day of hope and healing, for on that day in 2005 we merged two churches into one congregation. We look to this Sept. 11 as a day of peace and celebration for the future of our congregation, our community, our nation and our world."
The inaugural concert is the first of 30 community concerts in the coming months in the new building. On Sept. 25, for example, the Fort Worth Symphony will perform there.
"We are going to try to open the building to the community as well," Stoker said.
The new sanctuary, designed by Fort Worth architect David Stanford, is a combination of the old and the new, Stoker said. All the stained-glass windows, for example, are from the old Westcliff church and were designed by the late Gordon Smith. A cross from the Overton Park sanctuary is in the foyer.
The words of Jesus from John 15:5 are emblazoned on an outside wall: "I am the vine; you are the branches." The altar cross, designed especially for Arborlawn, also contains the vine and branches. "We point to the vine and branches to remind us who we are and what we are to do," Stoker said. "We have to bear fruit -- reach people for Christ."
Disney, 52, became pastor of the congregation in 2004, just before the merger. Sometimes, he said, uniting two churches doesn't work.
"What we said from the beginning is that we are not trying to be a bigger version of what we used to be," he said. "We had an opportunity to come together and refocus, re-energize and redirect our ministry to a new generation."
Both congregations trace their roots to the old Central Methodist Church on Lipscomb Street on Fort Worth's south side. It began in a brush arbor.
"We declared from the outset that we were Arborlawn with a great history," Disney said. "But we literally changed our structure, our way of doing things. We focused more on the outside instead of taking care of the institution inside."
Since the merger, the church has grown to more than 1,400 active members. "We have many younger members," he said. Some expressed fears that older members would resist change, Disney said.
"What we've learned is that our older members know more about change than any of us," he said. "They've gone through the Great Depression, world wars, everything you could throw at them. From Day One they have said we want to give something to the new generation."
After a recent worship service, church member Carlotta Norman praised the new sanctuary. "It's beautiful. It's full of life. It's fabulous," she said. But she said the church's ministry to the community is at its heart.
Church volunteers mentor children at Wedgwood 6th Grade School, operate a food pantry, make weekend snack packs for schoolchildren and provide breakfast bags for people at the Presbyterian Night Shelter. They also volunteer with many groups, including Habitat for Humanity, WestAid, Samaritan House and Northside Interchurch Agency.
"Our goal is just to continue to grow and serve the community," Norman said.