Whether it’s kids learning their Bible verses, young adults looking for meaning in life, or victims of a disaster in need of a meal, The Sanctuary has been working for 15 years to meet people’s needs in the Sylacauga area and in distant locations.

With a new activities and outreach building, the church is poised to continue on its mission, said Pastor Freddie Edwards.

The Church of God congregation began 15 years ago with seven people in the living room of Edwards and his wife, Suzette. Through locations in an old storefront, an old church in the Five Points area of Sylacauga, and its current sprawling location on U.S. 280 a few miles east of Sylacauga, the congregation has grown to more than 500 members, with 350 to 400 in attendance for services most Sundays.

The Sanctuary bought its two buildings and 10 acres at auction 11 years ago. “They were really in disrepair, so we went in and added some things and made some improvements over a few years,” Edwards said.

Then on June 29 of last year, the church’s family center was destroyed by fire. A feeding ministry was housed in the building, and it’s possible the fire started in the kitchen after a meal was prepared that day, Edwards said.

“Basically all that was left was the slab and maybe three of the beams,” he said.

Thanks to good insurance and hard work, the church dedicated its new family life center last Saturday with a huge picnic and ribbon-cutting ceremony attended by Sylacauga Mayor Doug Murphree and some City Council members.

The new building includes a gymnasium with a commercial kitchen attached, and worship centers for children and youths on two floors. Downstairs, children in second through sixth grades can learn and worship in High Voltage Ministries. A spacious auditorium is decorated in an industrial theme, with metallic gray highlights and yellow-and-black safety stripes.

Upstairs, Elevate student ministry is open to middle school and high school students, with a big auditorium equipped with high tech lighting and sound.

“One of the blessings that came out of the fire is that we were able to come back in and put some high-tech, cutting-edge electronic stuff in there that will enhance people’s experience in their worship. We’re really excited about that,” Edwards said.

“But as great as the building is, it’s not a showpiece. It’s a tool for us to minister to the city and to our congregation, and to reach out. We house our outreach ministries, youth and children’s ministries there. It’s basically a tool that’s going to be used for the Lord to reach out to the community and to enhance life around here.”

In addition to the ministries for children and youth, the new building is also home to Celebrate Recovery, a Christ-centered addiction recovery group that meets on Friday nights, and Fusion, a Sunday night college and career outreach ministry led by Pastor Patrick Harris.

The new building is also home to the church’s King’s Kitchen and Sanctuary Food Pantry ministries and a feeding program that provides meals for at-risk children through the Sylacauga Alliance for Family Enhancement.

King’s Kitchen includes a box truck and concession trailer with the capacity to feed 2,400 people three times a day. Backed by donors and staffed by volunteers, King’s Kitchen has responded to disasters including Hurricane Katrina, Hurricane Sandy, the Oklahoma tornadoes and the April 27, 2011, tornadoes in Alabama.

The food pantry ministry provides big boxes of donated food to 200 to 300 families on the third Saturday of each month.

After seeing the church grow and reach out to the community for 15 years, Edwards said he’s excited about what the next 15 years will bring. “I’m 55 years old. Hopefully I’ve got 15 more years left in me. I’m looking forward to more growth and ministry and outreach.”

The Sanctuary has bought the 20 acres adjoining the church, and Edwards said he hopes the church can one day develop a park with a lake, walking track and pavilions where families could have picnics and reunions.

For more about The Sanctuary, see www.wherejesushealsthehurting.com.