LifeAustin Church, 8901 West Highway 71
by Ann Fowler
OAK HILL – Sunday, January 27 saw the Grand Opening Celebration of LifeAustin, Pastor Randy Phillips’ dream church at 8901 West Highway 71. Formerly known as Promiseland West (and DreamCity), opening day drew a total of 3,500 visitors attending two church services and an evening performance by Phillips Craig and Dean, the contemporary Christian music trio featuring Randy Phillips, Shawn Craig and Dan Dean.
Church officials have insisted from the start that traffic would not be a problem— and they were true to their word. Pastor Phillips told the Gazette: “We were successful in getting TxDOT to put flashing caution lights near our exit. And we are using two Sheriff’s cars each Sunday and Wednesday nights.”
During the grand opening, in addition to the Sheriff’s cars with flashing lights and flashing signs warning of cars turning ahead, two dozen volunteers guided congregants quickly to open parking spots. The process would be reversed after the service to get the cars out quickly to allow spots for those coming to the later service.
This is not your father’s church: a thousand comfortable seats rising into theater seating surround the stage, and professional musicians’ rendition of “How Great Thou Art” seems more befitting a concert that a church service. But a church service it is, using all the technology of the 21st Century.
A ribbon-cutting ceremony, videotaped earlier in the week, was shown on a large screen and, as the ribbon was cut, streamers were released from the ceiling. Max Lucado, a best selling author and San Antonio pastor, entertained congregants with an engaging and thoughtful sermon.
Joy and Van Walley were attending for the second time. “Last week the sermon was the Gospel According to the Beatles,” Joy said with a smile. “We really like this church; it’s worth the drive.”
“Our attendance is up 110 percent in 3 months,” Pastor Phillips said. “Many from the local neighborhoods are coming over and becoming members of the church. They are asking great questions concerning the amphitheater and our plans for bringing the arts to our campus as a community resource. Most are surprised at what they’re being told by their neighborhood representatives and what the truth actually is.”
Pastor Phillips referred to acrimony from some of the local residents who were dismayed when the city approved the amphitheater administratively. Local neighborhood officials had planned to block approval of the amphitheater at public hearings. Some felt they did not have a chance to be heard on the project, so the Hill Country Estates Homeowners Association and Covered Bridge Property Owners Association brought suit against the city seeking injunctive and declaratory relief.
Some local residents have worried that the church will hold nightly music concerts in an outdoor amphitheater that would destroy the peace and quiet of the neighborhoods. Church officials have long disputed the intended use of the outdoor venue and promised to monitor sound levels to make sure they are within approved limits.
The City of Austin is holding hearings on the city code for outdoor amphitheaters. City Planning Manager Jerry Rusthoven said LifeAustin has already received approval for its amphitheater and will not be affected by a code change.
Pastor Phillips described the amphitheater as a “small boutique—not The Backyard. We’re not going to feature ZZ Top. This will be a family-oriented community stage where you can see your nieces, nephews and grandchildren perform in a beautiful little amphitheater—it’s not to be feared at all. I hate that people’s money is going into that lawsuit when it could be resolved in a conversation across the table at Jack Allen’s.”
To be constructed along with the amphitheater in Phase 2 are hike and bike trails, a disc golf course and a dog park. “I call Phase 2 the community phase,” said the pastor, expressing excitement about working with the community. “People can come and hang out on the property.”
Phase 3 of LifeAustin will include a wedding/funeral chapel available to the community, as well as a cemetery not only for people but for pets, too. “People are so attached to their pets, they feel they are part of the family,” Pastor Phillips said. He understands attachment to a pet and the feeling of loss, as a coyote recently killed one of the family’s French bulldogs. He said wanted to make sure the community had a place to bury their pets. “We’ll be working with a local veterinarian to make sure everything is done right,” he added.
For more information on the church, see www.lifeaustin.com.
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