By ANDREW NELSON, Staff Writer | Published November 2, 2017
PEACHTREE CORNERS—Under a gray sky, with temperatures struggling to get out of the 30s, hundreds of parishioners applauded, followed by a collective “Amen,” as church leaders and construction officials broke ground for a new sanctuary building Oct. 29.
The groundbreaking ceremony marked a new chapter in the history of Mary Our Queen Church.
The faithful filed out of their 20-year-old worship space, envisioned as a temporary sanctuary, to join church leaders who used gold-colored shovels to break the earth.
Paul Bataillon, leader of the parish building committee, said the long-awaited church will be busy when the doors open.
“It has a lot of kids to baptize, a lot of young adults to marry. And, a lot of old guys (like me) to bury,” he said. Since joining the church, Bataillon’s own family has grown by three children.
Elevated to a parish in 2006, Mary Our Queen Church began in November 1994 as a mission of All Saints Church in Dunwoody. Today, the parish includes about 700 families, drawing from the suburbs on the northeast side of Atlanta.
Bob Chapin recalled the early days. He and his wife, Jenny, attended All Saints Church and were part of a group of newcomers helping plant the church. The early years were spent in an industrial park, where there was a warehouse with picnic benches for parish activities.
“It was very intimate. There was a lot of excitement,” said Chapin.
The Chapin family continues to be active. Jenny said their three children grew up under the watchful eyes of the community. During the ceremony, she said her eyes welled up thinking about the passage of time and the community that is more like a family.
“They know me,” she said.
Going into the ‘Promised Land’
Archbishop Wilton D. Gregory celebrated Mass and led the Oct. 29 celebration, along with pastor Father Darragh Griffith and former parish administrator Father David Dye.
Father Griffith said the parish has long waited for this event and a new sanctuary building. The pastor, who has been at the parish for a little more than a year, said the goal is to build a beautiful church that will attract people and stir their faith.
He saluted the work of his predecessor, Father Dye, adding that parishioners view Father Dye as a Moses figure, taking them through the wilderness to the edge of a promised land of a new building.
“We’re going into the Promised Land” with this ceremony, said Father Griffith.
The parish originally had an ambitious plan to relocate a historic church from Buffalo, New York, to the Atlanta suburb. But a challenging economy and fundraising shortfalls shelved that plan.
The current church was constructed in the late 1990s on its 15-acre campus. The new sanctuary, to occupy 13,000 square feet, will be built in the Romanesque architectural style, adorned with century-old stained glass windows and other liturgical elements from St. Gerard Catholic Church in Buffalo. The interior will feature rows of columns and a choir loft. Items purchased from the Buffalo church, including wooden pews and the windows, are undergoing restoration. When the new building is completed, the current church building will be refurbished as the parish social hall.
The estimated $6.8 million project is scheduled to be completed in October 2018. Whiting-Turner is the contracting company handling construction.
A challenge to fulfill
During his homily at Mass, Archbishop Gregory reflected how a church is only a building, unless the congregation lives out God’s values.
Building a new sanctuary “ultimately is to prepare each one of you well for the final exam that will ask about your love for God and your love for your neighbor,” he said.
In the Gospel story, a Jewish scholar put Jesus to the test asking for his view on the most important commandment. That is a question Christians continue to ask and struggle with, the archbishop said.
“We too want to know what is most important, according to God’s law, his design and his plan,” he said.
Jesus speaks to contemporary life, with its complexities, technologies and freedom, not only to those mentioned in the Gospel story, he said.
“We will be judged by our love of God and our neighbor. That will be the test” at the end of life, he said.
And he encouraged the community to keep that in the forefront as they enter the next chapter of the parish history. Without love, the building will be beautiful, but will not fulfill its intention, he said.
“As the new building is being constructed, as the earth is prepared and the foundation is laid, and the walls are erected, and the roof put on, it’s not about building a new sanctuary that is most important. It is about entering a deeper relationship with God that embraces our neighbor and makes our hearts more supple in love for God and for our neighbor,” he said.
Parish members viewed the day with excitement as it delivered on a longtime plan.
“There are a lot of dedicated people who have put time and time and time into the parish,” said Bataillon. “It’s the start of something that has been around for a long time. We had one campaign after another. Finally, it’s all come together.”
Loretta Boyd joined the church in its earliest days. She has served on the finance committee and helped people join the church.
“It’s our second home. We’ve done different ministries here. It’s where our kids grew up,” said Boyd. “I look around at the people; I’ve known them so long. They are part of my family.”