By ERIKA ANDERSON-Staff Writer | Published January 12, 2006
Gathered in their new home, a little over 10 miles from their former one, parishioners of Prince of Peace celebrated as Archbishop Wilton D. Gregory dedicated their newly built church Jan. 7.
Parishioners assembled in the expansive narthex, bathed in the January sunlight that streamed through the many windows as building committee chairman Joe Meredith presented the new building’s plans to Archbishop Gregory.
“For many of us, this has been a long time coming, and I’m very glad we’re here,” he said, adding that the input of the entire church community was not only important but “crucial” to the building process.
“We have been blessed from the very beginning,” Meredith said. “Some were worried that we’d lose some of the warmth that we had in our small, cozy church. But we realized that it isn’t the size of the structure, it’s the caring and the warmth of the people that make Prince of Peace the church that it is.”
As Archbishop Gregory held the building plans, tied with a forest green ribbon, over his head, the congregation exploded into applause, many excitedly snapping pictures.
Then, accompanied by brass players performing “All Are Welcome” the crowd proceeded to the church, walking between Knights of Columbus honor guards standing at attention.
Approximately 20 priests, including pastor Father Fred Wendel, concelebrated the Mass, a moving bilingual rite that brought many to tears.
In his homily, Archbishop Gregory recalled the first time he’d visited Prince of Peace, “in the old house.”
“It’s a great joy to be with you today, in this new house of the Church. It’s a wonderful day, and this family of faith is rightly proud of all God has accomplished through them,” he said.
He offered his congratulations to Prince of Peace parishioners and his gratitude to his fellow priests who came to support the parish. The process of building a church, the archbishop said, can be a lengthy one, full of complications.
“Almost every building project runs out of some material that is needed. Every construction process tends to face some unwelcome difficulty,” he said. “I am sure that even in this wonderful new facility, that on occasion, not everything that was needed was here at the right time. Today we give thanks that in God’s goodness, everything eventually came together.”
And though a building is made up of many materials, it is the people that are most needed.
“We ourselves must be the living stones used by God to build his Church. Those materials must never be lacking. It must be our own lives and our willingness to live for others that form the Church,” he said. “And what God wants most of all is for the living stones of his Church to come together in unity and in peace to say ‘thanks be to God. Alleluia. God be praised.’ We pray that this is a church that is not only known for its beauty and architecture but for the beauty of the people which themselves make up God’s temple through God’s Holy Spirit.”
The Rite of Dedication then began as the congregation knelt and together sang the Litany of Saints. The archbishop then dedicated the altar, anointing it with oil and incense. Selected parishioners brought forth candles to light the altar.
As the lights in the church grew brighter, teenage girls dressed in white performed a liturgical dance, as little girls throughout the congregation stood on tiptoe to watch them.
Throughout the Rite of Dedication, many in the pews wiped away tears, a testament to their love for their parish. But it was the moving speech by Father Wendel that seemed to most touch the crowd.
The pastor thanked his brother priests and the deacons who attended the Mass, particularly a few priests who came to support him from his home diocese of Cheyenne, Wyo.
Thirty years ago, Prince of Peace Church was born in Buford. And now after a fruitless search for land in Buford, the church has made its move 10 miles away to Flowery Branch.
“We’re very excited,” Father Wendel said. “It’s a dramatic move for us, leaving Buford after 30 years. But we look forward to our future here in Flowery Branch and everything that means.”
Father Wendel said that “a lot of people have been working and waiting for this day for a long time.”
“No words I could say could in any way touch upon the commitment and dedication that went into this parish,” he said, fighting emotion. Ordained for the Diocese of Cheyenne, Father Wendel came to the Archdiocese of Atlanta in 1997.
“When I think back on the journey I made from Wyoming to Atlanta, I never in my wildest imagination could have ever imagined all the wonderful people I would have met and the wonderful experiences I have had,” he said. “When I look out here today, I see so many faces of so many people that I have come to love very much. I thank you for that love.”
Prince of Peace’s new church is a reflection of love, faith and dedication. Parishioners came in droves to the first Mass held in the new space on Christmas Eve. The church holds 850 people, nearly double the size of the former structure.
The $10.5 million project, designed by architects Chapman, Griffin, Lanier, Sussenbach, Inc. and built by contractors Winter Construction, features three adjoined buildings. In addition to the worship space, there is an administration wing, as well as an education building that connects a multi-purpose building via a large narthex/gathering space. This is the first phase of construction—the second will consist of a permanent church, a day chapel and an expansion of the education area.
The parish plans to open a preschool in September, and included in the master plan of the parish is a future Catholic school—a dream of many of the parish’s families.
Christa Cook, parish administrator of Prince of Peace for five and a half years, glowed with pride as she gave a tour of the new church. As she walked, many parishioners stopped to congratulate her.
“This is just breathtaking and so very joyful. It’s been a long time coming,” she said.
The archbishop’s homily, in which he spoke of the “living stones” of the church, rang especially true for Cook.
“This is a very family-focused, loving community,” she said. “This is a parish full of very caring people who are a family to many of us. My husband and I don’t have family here, but this parish has filled that void.”
Cook is excited about the move to Flowery Branch and said she has gotten to know many of the local police and fire officials.
“What a wonderful city,” she said. “We’re just thrilled to be here.”
Building Committee head Meredith said he felt “just total relief” that the day for dedication had finally arrived.
“I don’t know if anything else has really sunk in yet,” he said.
He expressed pride over the size of the structure, which he said would greatly add to the life of the 3,200-family parish.
“It’s so nice not to have to scramble and juggle meetings because we don’t have enough space.”
Keith Speed, whose father, Bill, is a deacon at the parish, was one of the first altar servers at Prince of Peace, having been a parishioner since he was just 11 years old. His children were baptized and his wife entered the Catholic Church at the parish.
“This is like family. They’ve been here through all the good times and all the bad times,” he said. “We were so packed at the old church. This is a new beginning.”
Parishioner Nancy Costello fought back tears as she spoke of the parish that has been her home since 1998.
“The warmth, the people—it’s like you’ve come home,” she said. “This is a very special space. There is a feeling you get at this parish that I have never experienced anywhere else.”
Costello remains confident that despite the larger worship space, Prince of Peace will maintain its familial atmosphere, and the new structure will give parishioners a chance to reach out to even more people.
“We’ve worked on this so long. When the song started and we walked into the church—it just brought tears to your eyes to know that we really did it.”