If God loves a cheerful giver, as the Bible suggests, he must be especially pleased with a small Ferndale church that has raised the money for a new building -- without borrowing a cent.
"Debt-free and proud of it" could well be the motto of the Fellowship Baptist Church,whose 125 members have given $300,000 to buy property and erect a building.
At the same time, they've supported five overseas missionaries and paid for outreach work in the local community.
Staying out of debt is a principle of their faith, say these independent Baptists.
"We don't think a church should be in bondage to debt," says the Rev.Michael Hubers, a soft-spoken county native.
"It straps a church in what it can do for its people and missionaries and neighbors. Not owing money to anyone grants a church a whole lot of freedom."
In the six years since the church was started, Fellowship Baptist has held tenaciously to that financial freedom.
After meeting first in homes, the 18 original members rented a community center for $7 an hour.
Since then, church members have given $65,000 to buy 6 1/2 acres off Wellham Avenue in Ferndale, then another $235,000 toward putting up a building.
The church hopes to break ground this month on an11,000-square-foot church and educational complex, to be finished bynext October.
This weekend, Fellowship Baptist is celebrating thechurch's sixth anniversary as well as its theme: "Arise and Build."
The weekend begins with a Friday buffet banquet and culminates Sunday evening with a special program featuring the Southern gospel singers the Anchormen.
John Stoughton, a member of the building committee, attributes the group's success in avoiding loans to "a real goodmembership."
"We don't have a big church, but the people we do have are all dedicated, devoted people and all working toward the same goal," he says. "That's what makes a difference."
The Pasadena resident has attended churches in the past that weren't as concerned with staying out of debt.
"There's a lot of pressure on a church thathas a mortgage to meet every month," Stoughton says. "You just can'thelp the community or each other the way you want to as a church."
Fellowship Baptist has applied for a grading and clearing permit and hopes to obtain a building permit shortly, Hubers says.
"We endorse the principle of patience," the pastor says. With the money the church has raised, the church should be able to complete the shell of the building.
"It won't be completely furnished, but we will be able to occupy the building debt-free," Hubers says.
In spite of allthe emphasis on constructing an actual building, Hubers notes that abuilding does not make a church.
"A church is people," he says. "The building could perish in a minute, but you'd still have a church."