A Buffalo congregation that has outgrown its former home on Linwood Avenue will dedicate a new, $2.5 million church on Main Street during services Sunday. .
Formerly known as the Linwood Avenue Church of Christ, the 475-member congregation is dropping "Avenue" from its name with the move to the new building at 2523 Main St. From now on it will be the Linwood Church of Christ.
"We were overflowing every Sunday," said the Rev. John A. Smiley, the church's senior pastor, describing the crowded conditions at the former church at 481 Linwood.
That building held 300 people.
The new contemporary style church, built on the site of a former Trico Products parking lot, has seating for 600 people in the main sanctuary. If necessary, it can accommodate another 600 in the lower fellowship hall where church members will be able to participate in the services via closed-circuit television.
The speaker for the dedication at 3 p.m. Sunday will be the Rev. Roosevelt C. Wells, a nationally known preacher, author and lecturer. The pastor of Harlem Church of Christ in New York City, he also will preach at gospel meetings at 7:30 p.m. Monday through Thursday.
Roberta Holder, manager of M&T Bank's Grant Street Office, which handled financing of the new church, said the bank was enthusiastic about the project because Smiley wanted to keep the church in the city.
Expansion at the old site was impractical because the building was located within a city historic-preservation district and there was virtually no parking there. The new site has parking for 166 cars.
"I think this is great," said Holder, looking around the spacious new sanctuary. "This is significantly larger than the other church."
With the new building completed, the pastor predicts that the interdenominational congregation, which is predominantly African-American, will grow by 20 percent during the next year.
"This building will be full in no time," predicted Smiley, pointing out that a few white families have joined and others -- black and white -- are expressing interest.
Church trustee Michael B. Lee, who joined the church in 1977, agrees that the church's future is bright.
"With the help of the Lord we will fill it up," he said. "Because of (Smiley's) leadership, the church has been growing. He is teaching the gospel. That is the bottom line."
While he warmly welcomes new members, Smiley acknowledges that the worship style at Linwood Church of Christ may not appeal to everyone.
"We try to replicate the first century church of Christ. We speak where the Bible speaks and are silent where the Bible is silent. We teach sound doctrine," he said.
That means that worship services are "not frivolous -- not emotional."
"We don't jump up and down. We don't use musical instruments. You don't see any hand clapping," he explained. "Some people say we are dull."
Unlike many thriving African-American congregations that use drums, guitars and saxophones, along with piano and organ to support singing, members of the Linwood Church sing unaccompanied.
Obviously, Smiley's back-to-basics approach is appealing to many. The church had only 90 members and collection income of $475 weekly when he became pastor 27 years ago. Today, the 475 members contribute about $7,500 a week.
Because church members tithe, the congregation was able to accumulate a $1 million construction fund in six years through regular Sunday offerings.
Besides the large sanctuary and lower auditorium, which also will serve as a fellowship hall, the church has 13 Sunday school classrooms, offices, a library, a kitchen and a crying room. It is fully air-conditioned and has an elevator.
During Sunday's ceremony, the fellowship hall will be dedicated to Jeff Burris, a former member of the Buffalo Bills, and his wife, Lisa. The couple joined the church two years ago.
The library will be dedicated to George Laman, who died recently, and his wife, Jane. The dedications are in recognition of substantial contributions to the building fund.
Smiley, a native of Selma, Ala., preaches at 11 a.m. every Sunday on the Search the Scriptures program on radio station WBLK-FM.
Before coming to Buffalo in 1974, he served for 20 years as a pastor in Hartford, Conn., where he also worked as a public school administrator and English teacher.
The Linwood Avenue Church of Christ was founded in 1959 on Madison Street. The congregation moved to Linwood in 1963. Services are at 10:45 a.m. and 6 p.m. Sunday and 7 p.m. Wednesday.