Sunday's service at Freedom House church was, according to one of its pastors, "epic."
For the first time in more than three years, the church's entire congregation met together for one service on a Sunday. They filled the 1,200 seats set up under a tent and stood around the edges.
"The energy level in the tent was off the roof for our church family," said Makeda Pennycooke, Freedom House Church executive pastor of operations. "It was indescribable, to be honest."
The church was celebrating the groundbreaking of the first building to be constructed on 27 acres the church owns at 2732 Salome Church Road.
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Across the street is Stoney Creek Elementary School, where the church meets regularly for its three Sunday services.
The church celebrated with music from its worship band, a sermon from co-pastor Troy Maxwell, confetti and food.
"This is a monumental point in our history as a church," Pennycooke said.
Freedom House Church is one of few in the University City area that is doing major construction, Pennycooke said. The first building will be a worship center for the church's Sunday services, and it will have a bookstore, coffee shop and space for children's ministry.
The church was started in 2002 by a team of four church planters, including Pennycooke, Maxwell and his wife, co-pastor Penny Maxwell, who moved to Charlotte from Richmond. It has now become a fixture in the Charlotte area.
Pennycooke said that the church's Life Groups, small groups that meet regularly for people to connect with each other, have developed into the backbone of the church.
"In a church of our size, it's easy for someone to just come and be a face in the crowd," she said. "We are very much committed to the idea that we are not meant to do life alone but with each other and in the community."
Freedom House Life Groups are open to church members and people in the community, and groups get together for everything from Bible study to community service to share recreational activities.
The church also focuses on student ministries, its weekend worship experiences and local outreach.
Pennycooke said Freedom House has become a picture of the diversity in the University City area, with a congregation of many races and ages.
The church's original team had white and African-American leaders who were committed to multiculturalism.
"We want our church to reflect heaven, and heaven is going to full of (people of) all generations," she said.
Freedom House Church's long-term vision is to duplicate itself with sites all over Charlotte, following a shift away from churches having only one meeting place.
"While this (new) campus is in the university area, it's not just about the university area for us," she said. "This will be the first of multiple campuses and locations across Charlotte. For us, our desire is to be influential across all of Charlotte."
The University City campus could have a park, a prayer garden, amphitheater and other buildings. Leaders hope it will be a place where the church can connect to people in the community.
Pennycooke said the church having its own building will add to its credibility in the community.
"We feel like when we get a building, it will let our community know this church committed," she said.