WEST PALM BEACH--In its heyday 40 years ago, Good Shepherd United Methodist Church in Palm Beach County had a thriving, affluent congregation. Its three Sunday services were attended by 4,500 faithful members.
Today, Good Shepherd bears little resemblance to the flourishing church Jennifer Guidoni grew up in.
“We used to be the country club church,” she said. “But there have been a lot of changes in the area over the years. The surrounding areas have become drug-infested and there’s a large heroine problem in the neighborhood.”
|Good Shepherd UMC in Palm Beach County is renovating a 1940's square dance hall into an upscale coffee bar and café that will include a theatrically lit stage. Several local music acts have already performed at the church creating a venue for young adults.|
The three Sunday services have winnowed to one service that attracts 300 people on its best day.
“The people coming to our church have limited incomes and a lot of needs,” she said. “We’ve had to open a food bank that serves 75 families each week.”
Guidoni left the church after she married and started a family. But, two years ago, she returned to serve as the family life minister.
Guidoni, now 53, said she barely recognized her childhood church.
The buildings on the 10-acre property—including the main sanctuary, the original sanctuary, now used by a Hispanic church, and the fellowship hall—were desperately in need of maintenance.
However, the biggest eyesore was a 1940s-era building used for youth groups.
“It used to be a square dance hall before the church bought it,” said Guidoni. “Over the years, we used it for Sunday school rooms and then as a youth house. When I came back, it had been painted in weird chartreuse and purple colors, it was filled with rundown furniture and the youth had written Scriptures and other messages on the walls.”
But where others saw a dilapidated structure overdue for the demolition ball, Guidoni saw potential.
“This is prime property, and I felt it had the potential to be used by many groups and become a beacon of hope for our church,” she said. “So we began to look at ways to update the building and use it in a way that would honor God.”
Guidoni came up with the idea of turning the building into a beach house café, offering a venue for live entertainment enjoyed over cups of gourmet coffee and freshly blended fruit smoothies.
The ultimate goal is to offer an affordable place for young adults in the community to gather and showcase their talents.
Guidoni’s enthusiasm proved contagious.
Using funds raised through the church youth group’s annual pumpkin patch, congregation members began donating their talents to renovating the building.
The biggest challenge was to update the 1940s electrical system, she said. That was replaced with the help of members who were electricians.
“We repainted the inside walls and replaced the old furniture with comfortable futon chairs and café tables,” she said. “One member donated a wooden bar where we could serve coffee. And we filled in the windows with plywood and faux painted them. We added café awnings and put a television in each window.”
The renovated structure also contains a large-screen TV where church groups can watch DVDs, a stage with spotlights and a foosball table for teen tournaments.
The garish exterior was transformed with a warm cream-colored paint accented with teal-colored shutters.
“It’s really sophisticated, relaxing and peaceful,” said Guidoni. “We’re already getting requests to book it for baby showers and other small gatherings.”
While the building will be available for private events and serve as a meeting room for church groups, Guidoni said its ultimate purpose will be a café for young adults on Friday and Saturday nights.
“We just need to install a sink and counters and get all the appropriate permits,” she said. “Then we can open our café and begin our community outreach.”
Guidoni said the effort has been heartwarming.
“Now members are talking about upgrading other rooms in the church,” she said. “You can feel the excitement. It’s amazing how this one change is transforming our church.”
--D’Ann Lawrence White is a freelance writer based in Brandon.