On the church’s Silver Anniversary in 1974, it authorized the largest construction project in its history – a new sanctuary. Ground was broken in June 1975 for an ambitious two-year undertaking. J. T. Arendall ably served as Chairman of the Building Committee. In addition to a 1600-seat sanctuary with a custom-built 2256 pipe, forty rank organ, the structure contained a spacious fellowship hall with a state-of-the-art kitchen, a parlor, a choir suite, and numerous classroom spaces.
The church was blessed to retain the services of nationally renowned glass artist Roy A. Calligan, Jr. of Cumberland, Maryland. Calligan was a master of a French glass technique called dalle de verre (French for “tiles of glass”), also called faceted glass. With this technique, one-inch slabs of Blenko glass were cut into the desired shapes then partially embedded into an epoxy matrix. The interior edges were then hand faceted. This causes light to be refracted through the glass at different angles. The effect is quite different from conventional stained glass, and faceted glass yields a deeper, more jewel-like color as light passes through it.
Dr. Gunnells and the church staff worked closely with Mr. Calligan to craft the symbolism contained in the 14 windows. The four large windows on the sides of the sanctuary depict: Growth and Maturity (oak tree), Baptism and Proclamation (dove and lamb), Redemption and the Church (hand of God), and Reconciliation and Missions (ship on Mobile Bay). The ten additional windows located in the stairwells and at the rear of the balcony represent the “I Am’s” of Christ. (“I am the Bread of Life,” “I am the Good Shepherd,” “I am the Alpha and Omega.”) Rumor has it that Auburn fan Tom Carter helpfully suggested that the Omega window be installed upside down, but fortunately cooler heads prevailed. If you have never taken the time to walk around the church and study these amazing works of art, you have cheated yourself.
Although construction of the new sanctuary was primarily cause for excitement, it also dredged up one of the darkest theological divisions in SHBC history – Steepleism. Years earlier when the current chapel was being planned, there was an impassioned controversy about whether or not to include a steeple. The “Steepleites” felt that a steeple was an aesthetic essential, while the “Non-Steepleites” considered it an unnecessary expense. The matter was of such concern that it was brought before the church for a vote on a Sunday morning. Although the Non-Steepleites won the day, a Steeplelite sleeper cell quietly began biding its time. They were delighted when a large steeple was included in the plans for the new sanctuary. The fact that it looks like it is falling off the roof when seen from certain angles, however, is to this day known as “The Curse of the Non-Steepleites.”
The generosity of the members of Spring Hill Baptist Church was never more evident than when it came time to furnish the new building. Memorial donations were made of everything from the landscaping to the windows, organ, pews and carpet down to the chairs and candlesticks. The first service in the beautiful new sanctuary was held on June 26, 1977 and it was formally dedicated on September 11, 1977.