Years of holding Sunday school in hallways, prayer meetings in an insurance company's office and social gatherings at a high school will soon end for Grace Baptist Church of Tyrone.
The church will move to its new facility at 2308 Adams Ave., Tyrone, in 2011.
It has been a frustrating wait for members and staff, who decided about seven years ago that they needed more space than the 7,000 square feet available at 1553 Columbia Ave., where services have been held for 57 years.
(Mirror photo by Gary M. Baranec) Mike Moriarity of Sandy Ridge paints while working from scaffolding in in November in the sanctuary of Grace Baptist Church in Tyrone. The church members hope to move into their new quarters in January.
Roy Garthwaite, pastor, said one of his first observations when coming to the church 15 years ago was that it was landlocked. At that time, it had about 90 regular attendees, but its growth to 170 worshippers has required two Sunday morning services for the past six years to accommodate the crowd.
"In 2003, we decided we were out of room and bought the property in that time period," Garthwaite said.
Then came a six-year wait.
"From 2005 to 2008, we couldn't save enough to keep up with the inflation of building costs," he said. "It was frustrating. Costs kept escalating."
"In the fall of 2009, everything changed," he said. "The bids came down $200,000."
Other factors also contributed to the church going ahead with its $1.27 million project.
"A group of Mennonites called us and asked if we were going to be selling our building before we put it on the market," he said. "They saw our sign 'Future site of Grace Baptist Church' [at the new 6.5 acre property]."
The Pilgrim Mennonite Conference of Lebanon County purchased the building for $150,000 and will establish the Tyrone Mennonite Church there for six families who have moved to the Tyrone area.
Grace Baptist also held a three-year capital campaign. Church members gave "very generously, very sacrificially. They were enthusiastic about the building," Garthwaite said.
A loan was approved by Altoona First Savings Bank and free labor was provided by the Baptist Builders for Christ, a network of volunteer teams which offer to assist Southern Baptists in building churches.
A former independent church, Grace Baptist became affiliated with the Southern Baptist Convention four years ago when about 87 percent of the congregation voted to support the move.
Garthwaite said Grace continues to be "autonomous but united with Bible-hearted Christians, people who hold to the Scriptures for authority in their lives and the structure of the church," he said.
He said the church was drawn to the Southern Baptists because they are mission-minded, don't compromise on biblical-based beliefs despite changes in the culture and welcome a diversity of race and ethnic groups.
Builders for Christ initially became involved in the building project several years ago when Earl Rhyne of Birmingham, Ala., visited the site as a consultant. Rhyne, who has a background in construction and real estate development, said at that time, Grace needed to sell its building before constructing a new one.
He noted that the 3.7 acres the congregation originally purchased did not leave enough room for growth and parking. So the church bought the adjoining lot of 2.8 acres.
Rhyne serves as project manager for the Builders for Christ B Team that sent between 500 and 600 volunteers to Tyrone throughout the summer to do everything from framing the building to roofing it to installing siding and hanging drywall.
One of the teams included a professional heating and air-conditioning crew from Florida who installed nine furnaces and air conditioners to promote zoned heating and cooling comfort.
At the end of each week, the volunteers would return to their homes and regular jobs and a fresh crew would arrive. They came from as far north as Connecticut, as far south as Florida and as far west as Illinois and every state between those areas, Garthwaite said.
Rhyne estimates that each team saves churches between 25 to 40 percent of their costs.
At Grace Baptist, church site coordinator Dan Albright of Tyrone estimated that the volunteers saved the church between $550,000 to $600,000.
"It was tremendous what they did for us," Albright said. "They are great people. They gave us new ideas and saved us a lot of money."
Rhyne said Baptist Builders for Christ was begun in 1981 by Lawrence Corley, an architect from Birmingham, Ala.
It helps to determine a church's needs and its ability to complete a structure before a shovelful of dirt is dug or a nail is hammered.
It assists with financial and master planning, design, construction systems advice and material estimating.
But it does not do all the work. Before the volunteers arrive, local church members are responsible for buying building materials, obtaining permits, recommending motels for the crews' lodging and the best places to buy food.
"It lets the local congregation find and develop leaders they never knew they had," Rhyne said.
Local church members also have been known to grab a hammer or saw and catch the "construction fever."
Rhyne said the projects usually yield new members for the next summer's teams.
He told of a 12-year-old boy who helped with a Griffith, Ind., project more than a decade ago. He lived in the neighborhood and thought construction work was fun.
Rhyne said the boy and his twin brother developed a relationship with Christ and continue to help build churches, including Grace Baptist.
"People get caught up in it. People realize what a great thing it is to help other people," he said.
In addition to the builders team and church help, local craftsmen were contributors.
Garthwaite said John "Cubby" Barefoot, a retired electrician and member of the church, did most of the electrical work, and Albright said Paint Rite of Tyrone painted the outside doors and inside door frames.
Drywall in the ceilings of the sanctuary and fellowship room was finished by Art Hoover, a retired contractor.
At the end of the summer, the structure was 75 percent complete, and church members were left to finish the job.
"We let them put some sweat equity in it," Rhyne said.
For the past few months, church members have been finishing drywall, painting and doing other detail work. Carpet and tile will be installed before the final inspection.
Garthwaite and Albright expect the new building to be ready in January.
At the new facility, members will be able to park in a lot that accommodates 160 to 170 vehicles as opposed to 15 at the old church building.
Children will be able to attend Sunday school in one of 10 private classrooms as opposed to the hall or foyer. Teens will not have to trudge across the street to an insurance company's conference room to meet or adults to pray.
The 75 children who attend AWANA on Wednesdays will have room to play games and teens will play volleyball or basketball in the 42-by-42 half court that also serves as the fellowship room.
The church will be able to gather there for the annual community Thanksgiving meal and other social events without having to rent Tyrone Area High School's cafeteria or another church's social room.
On Sundays, members will worship at one service because the 300-seat sanctuary will be able to accommodate them.
Garthwaite hopes that someday the church will grow again, necessitating another two services, and wants to expand the half basketball court into a full gymnasium.
"The new building is built for ministry," Garthwaite said. "We are strong into serving children and youth and reaching their families. That's our heartbeat."