Catch-as-catch-can congregation finally blessed with permanent home EAST COLUMBIA

October 06, 1992|By Adam Sachs | Adam Sachs,Staff Writer

After a decade of lugging hymnals, sound equipment and other materials to and from makeshift meeting rooms at Hammond High School, the South Columbia Baptist congregation finally has a church -- one parishioners built themselves.

Built on Guilford Road overlooking Hammond High in Kings Contrivance, the new building was the dream of a small group of faithful who saw a need for an alternative to Columbia's village interfaith centers.

The congregation, which had about 20 members in 1979 when it first began searching for a meeting place, now has about 165 members.

"We realized it was an oncoming community with a lot of people moving in," said Kenneth Gosnell, 69, a Columbia resident who was a deacon with the Savage Baptist Church. "There was a need for churches. Some people do go to churches, you know. It's part of a community."

Once, the congregation had to cut its service short and promise to help a circus move into the high school in return for waiting, said member Rodger Phillips.

"We had to share the building with everyone else in the world," he said.

And for years, baptisms were performed in other Baptist congregation facilities, an inconvenience that is no more, said member Diana Shackelford, who gave visitors tours at an open house Saturday.

Several congregation members praised the school system for allowing them to meet on weekends at Hammond High since 1980.

The congregation purchased 10 acres for $250,000 in 1984.

It raised money for the $1.2-million building project by contracting with an Indiana-based investment banking firm, which is selling bonds to church members, relatives and friends.

The firm loans money to the church. Construction began last November.

The first service in the new sanctuary was on Aug. 2, and the church was dedicated Sept. 13.

The facility also includes classrooms, offices, a multipurpose room providing space for children's activities and day care provisions.

The church provides the congregation a sense of identity that a school setting couldn't, said The Rev. E. Stephen Neel.

"We've always been a real church, but in some minds, without a facility, there was a question of, 'Who are you?' " he said.

Mr. Phillips and Mr. Gosnell say that the interfaith centers the Rouse Co. established for Columbia -- a system in which different religious groups within a village use the same facility for worshiping at different times -- is not very practical.

"If you count all the people in a village, is that going to be enough space?" Mr. Phillips asked. "If even 10 percent attend, that's not enough space for worshiping. There are too many scheduling problems."

Mr. Neel said the South Columbia Baptist Church is "not in opposition to the interfaith concept, but it provides an alternative.

"It works for some people, but not others," he said. "A number of congregations have sprung up. They're meeting in schools, halls. That shows that there are a number of congregations looking for alternatives."

Mr. Neel said his goal is to create a community church for Kings Contrivance village and surrounding areas.

"People have different beliefs and faiths," he said. "We may not be able to minister to everyone to the same degree. But if they needed a church for any reason, we'd be here to help them if we could."

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