By Amy Wenk
amywenk@reporternewspapers.net

The youths of Peachtree Presbyterian Church now have a place all their own.

The church opened a 38,000-square-foot young Christian center called The Lodge on Nov. 2. The two-story structure, whose construction began in May 2007, sits across the street from Peachtree’s main campus at 3434 Roswell Road in Buckhead.

The need for the facility arose from the influx of children at the church. Peachtree, the nation’s largest Presbyterian church, baptizes 160 to 180 babies a year.

“We promise as a congregation to teach these children the good news of the Gospel and to nurture them to adulthood with strong support in their faith,” said Senior Pastor Vic Pentz, who ministers to 8,750 members. “With the pipeline feeding us 180 children a year, we need a big environment for them when they reach middle school and high school years.”

The old youth facilities — about 4,000 square feet below the gym — were inadequate for the growth. Carlisle Vason, 18, said his Sunday night Bible study was squeezed into the bride’s room the past three years.

“It was tiny,” said the senior at The Westminster Schools. “We really didn’t have any room.”

The Lodge offers ample space and an environment designed for people from fifth grade to age 30.

“We saw this as a real opportunity to minister to students and young people in a way that is inviting,” said Will Mack, the executive director of operations. “It’s not a church building. It’s a comfortable place.

“It’s extremely satisfying to think about all the lives … that will be changed and all the good memories people will have here.”

The atmosphere

Congregation members smiled as they walked into The Lodge Nov. 2.

They entered a rustic gathering space with cow-print rugs, comfy leather furniture and wood-beam ceilings. Painted in brown and red, the room features a stacked-stone fireplace and pool and shuffleboard tables.

A 4,000-square-foot coffee shop lines the back wall. There, Garrett Brown and his wife, Liz, serve fair-trade coffee and pastries.

“One of things we want to do is give people what is called a third place to come,” Mack said. “A place to be comfortable — not home, not work, but a third place where they can come and just hang out and be comfortable.”

Also downstairs is a large worship space for middle school students and a game room.

Upstairs is the area for the high school ministry. Called The Summit, the room has seating for more than 400. Off that space is a 3,500-square-foot balcony called The Overlook, with a view of the wooded property.

The Lodge also houses six classrooms and an office suite for eight full-time staff members.

“We have a really excellent sound system both upstairs and downstairs,” said Joe Ryan, the director of student ministries. “Music is a great art and expression. We will be able to have state-of-the-art concerts. The mixing board back there is like what Aerosmith would tour with. They really spared no expense.”

Carolyn Tye, a junior at Riverwood High School in Sandy Springs who has attended Peachtree since third grade, expressed her enthusiasm about The Lodge. “It looks really great, and I’m really excited about it,” the 16-year-old said. “I think I’m going to come hang out during the week at the coffee shop.”

The outreach

Another aspect of The Lodge is its accessibility to the community. The center will be open to all youths and young adults, not just church members.

“The nonreligious identifier ‘The Lodge’ and the detachment from the main church facility will make it easy for kids freaked out by church to come get connected,” Pentz said.

Ryan said he expects the youth ministry to grow by 10 percent to 20 percent in three months.

The Lodge Cafe will be open to the public from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. weekdays, beginning Jan. 5.

“The mission behind the Lodge Cafe is to serve our young people … to serve the community, but then also take the proceeds from the cafe and help other people around the world,” Mack said. “We will be doing different mission projects with that money.”

Other improvements

The Lodge is one of the improvements covered by the $32 million Growing Strong Capital Campaign, which began in 2004.

Another is The Passage, a 250-foot-long, 8-foot-wide walkway underneath Roswell Road that connects the youth center to the main campus.

On Oct. 12, the church dedicated the Williams Center, where the congregation can meet and greet in more than 7,000 square feet before and after services.

The area includes a new bride’s room and the Harrington Heritage Room, a library named in honor of the church’s fifth pastor.

The capital campaign also added the Dogwood Parking Deck with 350 spaces behind The Lodge.

“Our gratitude and confidence is soaring these days as we see six years of planning, praying and giving wind up in a result beyond our wildest dreams,” Pentz said.

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