Regular drivers along Route 131 in Searsmont may have noticed in the last month or so that Abundant Grace Church has been getting bigger. In fact, the building has almost doubled in size, according to its pastor, the Rev. Peter Sheff.

The addition of approximately 1,500 square feet was always intended, he said, but had to wait until funds could be found to accomplish it. “This is the original size,” he said, referring to the building including the addition. Sheff said the church paid for the addition partly “out of pocket,” and also got a bank loan. The new space will be used for a fellowship hall, a nursery and two Sunday school classrooms, he said.

The Abundant Grace congregation started meeting in 2001 at Troy Howard Middle School in Belfast, and moved around a few times until it built a home of its own, which opened in 2008, Sheff said. The church, which was built entirely with volunteer labor, was financed in part by a gift of $10,000 from the late Fred Cohen, a part-time Searsmont resident and member of the congregation who had converted to Christianity from Judaism, the pastor said.

When it came time to build the addition, it was decided to have the exterior construction, plumbing and heating done professionally. The church hired a carpenter friend of Sheff’s, who started work in mid-October, and is already done. The space, though not finished inside, was put to use starting Sunday, Dec. 5; interior finish work will be done by volunteers from the congregation. Sheff hopes the inside work will be done by Easter.

The fellowship hall will be used Saturday, Dec. 18, starting at 5 p.m. for the church’s annual community Christmas dinner, which is free to anyone who wants to come. In addition to the meal, there will be a Christmas play and a short inspirational message.

Sheff said one of the things that makes Abundant Grace special is that the congregation “doesn’t believe that failure is final,” but offers acceptance and love to all who want to participate. In order to spread that message of love and forgiveness, he hopes to put a video camera in the worship space and make services available on the Internet.

At 63, Sheff is nearing retirement from his second job, working for Bank of America. He said he looks forward to being able to spend more time ministering to his congregation. “Each day is new with God,” he said.