The Rev. Gene Gurley and the membership of the 156-year-old First United Methodist Church are excited about bringing their 19th century worship center into the 21st century.

“We’re going to renovate the sanctuary and add new, improved audio-visual equipment which will give us capability of ministering to today’s congregation without losing the historic appearance of the building,” Gurley said.

Founded in 1851, the church built the present Texas Victorian-Gothic structure in 1887.

“We’re going to refinish the hardwood floors, lay new carpet and we are taking the old curved pews to Cleburne, where they will be dismantled and totally refinished,” Gurley said, noting the chancel area will be given a facelift and the overflow areas on both sides of the sanctuary will be redesigned to increase seating capacity.

“We are also making provisions for spaces for handicapped seating,” he said. “The remodel won’t increase seating all that much — probably from a seating capacity of 250 to 300.”

Gurley said the church still has its original bell, which is still in operation. No one knows for sure if the bell dates back to 1851, when the church was organized, he said.

Gurley, a native of New Orleans, received his degree from Southern Methodist University’s divinity school, Perkins Theological Seminary.

He and his family moved to Alvarado in 2003 from Arlington, where he served as associate minister for Saint Barnabas United Methodist Church.

“We are excited about our church,” Gurley said. “We have good people in our congregation who do a lot of good for the community and their desire is to be good stewards of the resources with which God has entrusted them.

“We want the nicest facility possible, but at the same time we want to remember that the church is not the building, it’s the people,” he said.

The church has set up temporary worship facilities in its family life center, with worship services at 9:15 a.m. Sundays.

“We plan to be back in the sanctuary by mid-November and look forward to celebrating Christmas in a newly rennovated building,” Gurley said.