Zion United Church of Christ, Lehighton, on Sunday celebrated the dedication of its new elevator during church services, followed by a ribbon cutting and ceremonial ride by two members of the congregation who use canes to help them walk.

The elevator installation was part of a $500,000 renovation project at the church.

The Rev. Allen L. Heckman, pastor of the church, welcomed everyone to the special celebration service.

"We're going to make our circle, then go outside and cut the ribbon, have our ceremonial ride and then go downstairs for our luncheon," said Rev. Heckman.

The groundbreaking for the project was held in September 2012 and since then the project had been under way. The project was coordinated by the Faith Lift Committee, chaired by Cheryl and Dan Kunkle and Judy Fatzinger.

Kunkle said that by having three co-chairs, there was always someone available when needed to steer the committee.

Kunkle; John Lopata, chairman of the property committee;oody Frey, Service Construction, general contractor; Michael Jonn, architect; and the Rev. Nancy Azar, associate minister, Penn Northeast Conference of the United Church of Christ, were all asked to speak during the service.

Kunkle said that the project was a lot of hard work, but that he was there to say thank you to everyone who helped in any way. He thanked the committees, congregation, contractor and architect for their donations, service and work in seeing the project through.

Lopata said that when he signed on to be on the committee, he had no idea how much work it would be, but he was able to keep the project under budget and get a few things they hadn't anticipated in the beginning.

During a tour, Lopata pointed out a gallery which is located over the roof that was added. There were also three closets added.

Frey thanked the congregation for putting their faith in his company to do the renovations.

"While I was here working, I saw what your church does for the community," said Frey. "I see you feed the homeless and needy members of the community. I see how this access will help your mission. I feel that it was God's sign when we were able to meet the codes by a half inch."

Jonn also thanked the congregation for allowing him to be part of the process.

"Now its onward and upward," added Jonn.

The Rev. Azar remarked on the church's mission to feed the hungry and nurture the children.

She said, "You have made this mission central to your mission of faith. This elevator is the culmination of something remarkable in the face of many obstacles."

While the focus of the service was on the completion of the elevator, Rev. Heckman, said there were many phases over the years that helped lead to this final moment.

The renovation included raising the door over three feet and taking the steps from inside the church, adding a ramp to the front of the church, plus new steps that lead to the sanctuary.

"We had a lot going on all at the same time," said the Rev. Heckman. "Now people who are handicapped can come in through the front door of the church."

The new elevator has three levels. It takes people to the basement where the fellowship hall is located, to the main level of the sanctuary and to the third level, where the Smith auditorium is located. This level had been mostly off limits to those who are handicapped. The only area still unaccessible to the handicapped is the balcony seating.

Kunkle said that when all the pledges arrive, the project will be paid.

"This is huge in the face of the recession. We've asked people to dip into their savings and they have," added Kunkle.

His wife, Cheryl Kunkle, added, "This was a huge risk, but the congregation made it their mission."