There's no shelter in the sanctuary, but the First United Methodist Church still will welcome congregation members tonight and throughout a renovation project.
The Christmas spirit lives on at First United Methodist Church, despite problems with a 108-year-old ceiling that forced the closing of the sanctuary this week.
Congregation members pulled together and spent Thursday setting up chairs and decorations in the fellowship hall of the church, 946 Vt., where Christmas Eve services will be tonight.
A structural engineer with Harris Construction Co. Inc. last week inspected the plaster ceiling at the church and relayed his concerns about cracks in the plaster to church trustees. On Monday, they decided to close the sanctuary.
Although none of the plaster has fallen, there are several places where it has pulled away slightly from the laths.
The construction project should begin the second week of January and last eight to 10 weeks, said Jeff Morgan, chair of the board of trustees.
"It's another one of what I call 'gifts' of being in a historic building that you get to replace 100-year-old plaster," said the Rev. Sharon Howell, the church's pastor.
The fellowship hall will hold 325 people, compared to the sanctuary's capacity of 600. The church added a Christmas Eve worship service at 9 tonight to augment the 5:30 p.m., 7:30 p.m. and 10:30 p.m. services already planned.
Early Saturday morning, volunteers will rush to set up tables for the Lawrence Community Christmas Dinner, from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. in the fellowship hall. There are no church services Saturday, but the hall will revert to its temporary sanctuary status -- complete with raised pulpit, choir seating and piano -- for a 10:30 a.m. Sunday service.
The multipurpose hall, built in 1986, is used for choir practice, meetings, classes and coffee after church services.
"I think (congregation members) will be surprised when they see how flexible the area is and how much foresight they had when they built it," Howell said.
Church trustees, already planning to renovate the sanctuary in 2001 with new carpet and paint, moved those projects up to January to coincide with the ceiling repair. Howell said the ceiling repair will cost about $60,000.
Two weddings planned in the coming weeks will be moved across the street to Plymouth Congregational Church. Howell said the church's United Child Development Center classes, some of which take place in rooms under the sanctuary, won't be affected.
Howell said church members are making the best of the situation.
"After the initial shock wore off, the response was, 'What can I do, how can I help,' and 'I'll do what I can do,'" she said.
-- Chris Koger's phone message number is 832-7126. His e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.