Building a church home

Baptists: With help from volunteers, near and far away, a North Laurel congregation finally has a home of its own.

January 10, 2003|By Liz F. Kay | Liz F. Kay,SUN STAFF

After 15 years of waiting, Hope Baptist Church in North Laurel now has a place to call its own home.

More than 400 volunteers helped construct Hope Baptist's 12,700-square-foot building on Stephens Road last summer, saving the church more than $1 million. Hope Baptist now has a permanent place to worship, ending 15 years of services held in schools or rented churches.

"We were like nomads," said the Rev. Richard G. Beacham, the pastor.

Hope Baptist is putting the finishing touches on the building and awaits final permits to occupy the space, expected to be granted this month.

The Southern Baptist congregation was formed after performing mission work in North Laurel. Thirteen people attended the first service in 1987 at Whiskey Bottom Elementary School, now called Laurel Woods.

The congregation worshipped at Laurel Woods for 13 years, using members' homes for Wednesday prayer services. Hope Baptist now rents space at Laurel Korean Baptist Church in Scaggsville.

Eight years ago, the church purchased 11.5 acres on Stephens Road, down the street from the new Emerson subdivision, where about 1,200 homes are planned. But after raising more than $500,000 and obtaining building permits, congregants were still debating how to construct the church.

"We had set it up, but we weren't sure how we were going to finish it," Beacham said.

Hope Baptist put a notice on its mission board Web site, where a group called Builders for Christ discovered the need. The Birmingham, Ala., group, which was launched in 1981, "assists churches who are trying to minister to their neighborhoods in meaningful ways," said Lawrence Corley, project coordinator and founder.

It has built more than 30 churches, mostly in New England, and each year sends volunteer workers to two congregations - saving up to 40 percent on church construction costs.

Financial need is not the major criterion for Builders for Christ; the congregations must raise funds on their own to pay for the land and necessary materials. Rather, Corley said, Builders tries to help emerging or growing churches with mature ministries find their first building.

"We've helped people in communities that have great jobs, but their spiritual need is so great that it's time to do more ministry-wise," Corley said.

And it turned out that solving the problem for Hope Baptist solved a problem for Builders for Christ as well.

Usually the group selects a church in the late fall. Corley, a church architect, works with local officials to draw up plans for a site. He returns around March to meet with local authorities and secure permits.

But last year, a hitch developed with one of the churches that Builders had selected - the agreement fell through, leaving the group with volunteers ready but no church to build.

Hope Baptist had done the preparatory work, so Builders for Christ was able to jump in at the last minute with construction help.

Teams organized by Builders for Christ come from churches all over the country to work for 10-day increments from June to August, completing about three-quarters of the job by the end of the summer, Corley said.

Volunteers donate their services and pay to live in nearby college dormitories or motels. They cook and eat all their meals at the site. (Hope Baptist prepared the building site and hired a contractor to pour the foundation. It also finished the work that remained in September.)

Although Corley cautioned that "we don't build cathedrals," using volunteers doesn't mean that Hope Baptist skimped on amenities.

The volunteers installed a 32-channel sound system, with a projection screen above the choir in the sanctuary to display lyrics for hymns and the church bulletin.

They also built an automatic baptismal tank in the sanctuary. With the touch of a button, the tank fills with heated water and shuts off when full, Beacham said.

"This is a little more high-tech than we had been before," he said.

Most of the Builders for Christ volunteers had never worked on a construction site before. The group brings a number of "foremen" to lead the teams in tasks.

Among the more specialized volunteers, however, was a professional cabinetmaker who built furniture for the church offices and the nursery and preschool classrooms. A heating and air-conditioning contractor came from Tallahassee, Fla., and paid his staff to work on the site.

Other donations and discounts came in as well. A furniture maker in Prince George's County donated a handmade altar table and pulpit. A church in Friendship, Md., offered a large, circular stained-glass image of Jesus at a reduced price.

One contractor estimated the cost of constructing the building at about $2.3 million. With the help of Builders for Christ, Hope Baptist spent about $1.3 million on materials and furnishings for the facility, Beacham said.

And Builders for Christ benefited from its first site in Maryland. "It gives us the opportunity to serve God alongside of what pastors and missionaries do," Corley said. "It doesn't keep us in the pews as observers. That's very deeply satisfying spiritually."

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