From the Worldwide Faith News archives

Presbyterian Church Grows in Disney's Celebration Community

Date 23 Dec 1996 19:28:06

96504              Presbyterian Church Grows in 
                  Disney's Celebration Community 
                          by Alexa Smith 
ORLANDO--The Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) is the only denomination building 
a church during the first phase of construction of the Walt Disney 
Company's Celebration, a planned community on the outskirts of the Magic 
Kingdom.  The community appears to be the Disney Company's attempt to 
re-create 1940's-style small town living with a high-tech twist. 
     The church's three-wing complex, including an 800-seat sanctuary, will 
be completed by the summer of 1998 at the anticipated cost of $7 million. 
It will serve the projected 20,000 residents of the Osceola County 
community and the thousands of anticipated national and international 
visitors to central Florida's tourist sites. 
     The church will also include a fellowship hall and welcome center, 
designed to provide information about the denomination's mission and 
ministries in several languages. 
     The project is funded by a variety of sources, including up to $3 
million in loans from the Presbyterian Investment and Loan Program (PILP). 
An undisclosed gift has been received from the niece of Walt Disney, 
Dorothy Disney Puder, who is married to a retired Presbyterian minister, 
the Rev.  Glenn Puder of Bakersfield, Calif. 
     "We're the first church here and the only church for some time," said 
Roger Richardson, executive of Central Florida Presbytery.  The 
Presbyterian Church was invited by Disney Company officials to construct a 
church on a two-acre site in the heart of Celebration after efforts to 
develop an ecumenical worship center failed.  The presbytery paid $500,000 
for the parcel of land in the heart of Celebration's town center 
     "We'll have the building up in a year," he said.  "[We just] don't 
know if we're thinking too small or too big." 
     What they are thinking, however, is entirely atypical for new church 
developments.  As the yet unbuilt church's new pastor, the Rev. Pat Risley, 
puts it: "We're going to start with the building, then fill it. 
     "We have an instant choir," he said, referring to the choir on loan 
from First Presbyterian Church in Orlando.  The Orlando church has also 
promised pastoral counselors and staff for the celebration church's day 
care center.  "We'll be opening up full service.  A preschool right out of 
the chute. ... We'll start with the whole store wide open." 
     Risley came to Orlando from the staff of 11,000-member Peachtree 
Presbyterian Church in Atlanta.  He believes that putting a church into the 
middle of this highly studied, planned community is a way not only to reach 
the local community, but to reach visitors who come to get a look at this 
showcase town. 
     "There are 35 million turns of the turnstile each year here," said 
Risley about the Magic Kingdom. 
     "This a chance to really make a statement about the Presbyterian 
Church (U.S.A.) in a wonderful way," he added.  Several other denominations 
have worship sites near by, he noted, such as the Mary, Queen of the 
Universe Shrine, which is operated by the Diocese of Orlando and holds 
masses for about 100,000 tourists yearly.  But none of these other worship 
sites is integrated into the life of the community the way the Presbyterian 
church will be in the city of Celebration. 
     Central Florida Presbytery has built 22 new churches in the last 20 
years.  Building projects are currently underway in 54 of the presbytery's 
76 churches.  "We plan to build 10 more churches in the next eight years," 
Potter told the Presbyterian News Service.  Presbytery officials 
acknowledge that the Celebration project hasn't gone through without some 
heat.  There are criticisms that Celebration is too elitist -- since homes 
there run from $129,000 to $1 million -- and that its ties to Disney and 
its fanciful characters trivialize the gospel. 
     "I don't feel we need to protect the gospel," said Richardson.  "The 
gospel's been changing lives for centuries ... And it'll be here long after 
[this] company has been purchased by some other conglomerate ... Disney 
can't corrupt the gospel. 
     "But the gospel planted right here in the middle of the corporate 
world -- [think] of the lives it might change. ..." 
     To the elitist charge, Richardson simply says those leveling that kind 
of critique ought to look more closely at their own neighborhoods.  Many 
PC(USA) churches are built in privileged areas.  "But no matter how nice 
the yards are or how idyllic the setting, the pain of life will not pass by 
this community," said Richardson. 
     "And these people are gonna need somebody to stand with them in [that] 
     Potter said the presbytery's other new, church developments over the 
next 10 years will be located in economically-diverse neighborhoods, 
including one in a community of Mexican farm workers.  "They're not going 
to get off the ground as quickly," she said.  "For a longer period of time, 
they'll need support from the presbytery." 
     She is also clear that the presbytery needs support from the entire 
denomination to pull off the Celebration project.  The Celebration church 
is the only church to be mandated by a General Assembly to "model new ways" 
to be the church in the next century," she said.  "The presbytery can't do 
this alone.  We really do see this as a national and international 
statement ... proclaiming the message of the entire denomination." 
     Charles Adams, vice president of the Celebration Company, told a 
reporter from the Orlando Sentinel that the corporation hopes to see many 
different worship centers in Celebration.  After discussing worship centers 
with more than a dozen denominations, Adams said, Celebration's planners 
were swayed by the Presbyterians.  
     "The group that really took the ball and began to move it along was 
the Central Florida Presbytery ...," he told the Sentinel.  "They were way 
out ahead of everyone else." 

For more information contact Presbyterian News Service
  phone 502-569-5504             fax 502-569-8073  
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