Marquee moment: Rock Presbyterian Church launches major expansion

Now playing at Rock Presbyterian Church in Columbus — the $3 million expansion of the old movie theater structure it has called home for nearly a year.

The church at 5301 Sidney Simons Blvd., in a shopping and dining area known as The Landings, has embarked on the major upgrade to add a larger sanctuary, fellowship hall and gymnasium, said Myong Yi, who heads the building committee at Rock Presbyterian.

“We have an existing church building already,” Yi said Tuesday. “It used to be the Carmike theater. We bought it and renovated the building ... But currently we do not have a fellowship hall and gymnasium and main sanctuary area. We do have a temporary sanctuary and the seating capacity is about 200 people.”

Rock Presbyterian, founded by the Rev. Sam Park in 1985 as a Korean church, has grown and diversified racially through the years. Thus, the need for a larger home. It found that in an unconventional spot, the shuttered Carmike Cinemas theater that had been used for storage and office space since closing a few years ago.

The church relocated from its Floyd Road location in east Columbus last May after purchasing the Carmike property for its congregation, which tops 200 for any given Sunday service. That building acquisition came after Rock Presbyterian had bought land off Veterans Parkway near Northside High School, but decided the centrally located Carmike structure was a better fit for the church’s long-term growth and expansion.

“It’s off Airport Thruway by the Kmart and Big Lots. So it’s a nice location for everybody right off of (Interstate) 185,” said the Rev. Richard Gardiner, who is the pastor of the English-speaking membership of the church. Rev. Park, who was born in Korea, is the senior pastor.

Gardiner, whose day job is history professor at Columbus State University, said while having the church inside an old movie theater is “working out” for the congregation, it still wasn’t big enough for their needs. The sanctuary also doesn’t have any windows, which should be rectified with the new one.

Yi said the new sanctuary will seat between 350 and 400 people, which will ease the pressure during special events, such as last Sunday’s Easter service when the house was at capacity and then some.

The gymnasium will be used as a mission center as well, with multipurpose events taking place there. It also will give members of the church, particularly youths, a place to play basketball, volleyball and even indoor tennis, Yi said.

Gardiner, only half-joking, said the “unofficial driving force” of the major expansion was food, or in the case of the current building, the lack of kitchen facilities to prepare a tasty Korean meal.

“Korean culture is real, real big on having a meal as part of the church service,” he said of dishes that include the traditional spicy cabbage called kimchi. “Back on Floyd Road, we had a kitchen, so the Korean women were making what they call a banquet every Sunday. Then we moved to the movie theater and there was no kitchen facility.”

The location itself does have its advantages, Yi conceded. Those driving past Rock Presbyterian as they shop or grab a bite to eat at restaurants in the area also might be inclined to drop in for a worship service at some point.

There’s also the possibility that missionary people from the U.S. or overseas might choose the larger facilities for a convention or symposium. The fact that there are plenty of hotels and eateries in the vicinity is a plus in that regard, he said.

No matter the location, Gardiner said part of the strength — what he calls “the glory of Rock church — can be found in its diversity. The congregation comes from across Columbus, he said, and many of the members are comprised of mixed marriages — whites, blacks and Hispanics wed to Koreans — with the impact of Fort Benning and military people having served in South Korea part of the reason for that.

“So we have a lot of kids, a lot of youths, that are a product of a black and Korean mom and dad, or a Spanish and Korean,” Gardiner said. “So it’s amazing when you come, particularly to the sanctuary where I preach, and you see every different kind of face in there ... It’s a real mixture and is really kind of cool and a neat thing to see.”

While the expansion project has just gotten under way, with bulldozers preparing a pad from the red earth, Yi said the plan is for the church’s worshippers to be in their new environment before the end of this year.

“We are hoping by the early part of November we can complete it and we can get an occupancy permit so we can have it dedicated and have a Thanksgiving service in the new sanctuary,” he said.

While a Columbus Consolidated Government building permit estimates the construction price at just under $4 million, Yi said the actual cost should come in at about $2.5 million. Furnishing the new facilities with pews, a sound system and, of course, kitchen equipment, along with other necessities, will push the total closer to $3 million, he said. Par Church Builders Inc. is the contractor.