Raising up a Church
By Matthew Ward
In its first project in Virginia, a church construction mission of Brookwood Baptist Church in Alabama is raising up a place of worship for Smithfield’s Harvest Fellowship Baptist Church.
Harvest Fellowship started in May 2001 as an offshoot of its Suffolk-based mother church, Nansemond River Baptist, explained Debbie Bunch, wife of Harvest Fellowship Associate Pastor of Worship Ronnie Bunch.
“We had a lot of Smithfield and Carrollton people that were driving into Suffolk,” Debbie Bunch said. “Sixty-six of us came here.”
The new church began holding Sunday services at Carrollton Elementary School “right off the bat,” Ronnie Bunch said, and it was able to purchase the land where the construction is now taking place, on Battery Park Road, in 2005.
“We spent a year renovating the existing building — an old livestock auction barn — into an office,” he said.
Building a church on the land was always the idea, according to Ronnie Bunch, and they’d been fundraising toward that goal.
But a recent third fundraising drive still left them an estimated five years out from achieving it, he said.
“That’s when we were put in touch with Brookwood Builders for Christ,” he said.
Lawrence Corley, project director for Builders for Christ, said the Smithfield church is the building ministry’s first in Virginia.
Corley’s team, the largest of three, has provided the labor to build 63 other church buildings in 20 states over 34 years, he said, “mostly in New England and the Midwest.”
The project is expected to take about 12 weeks, Corley said. During that time, 1,250 volunteers will give of their time and skills.
“The volunteers we have here now include salespersons, homemakers, an OB-GYN doctor, a dentist, an architect, two contractors, insurance agents, math professors, students — all walks (of life),” he said.
They come from Virginia, Connecticut, Colorado, Florida, Washington state and Alabama, he said.
“Over the summer, there will be probably 74 different church entities (that) show up here,” he said.
“Within those (entities), there are probably two to five people who are extremely literate about buildings like this getting built. Then we have new arrivals, who have to be taught one task at a time.”
The 18,400 square-foot, single-story building will have a worship center that seats 500 and 23 other rooms, including a large, multipurpose children’s worship area, Corley said.
“We are very children-worship oriented,” Ronnie Bunch said.
The church has about 400 members, Bunch said, and about 300 generally attend the Sunday service, he said.
“We pretty much have maxed out the facility we are in,” he said, adding that two Sunday services aren’t possible at the school for logistical reasons.
“We are expecting God to bring the increase as we provide a place for people to worship,” he said. “It’s not about the building; the building is just a tool for us to reach the community and minister to the community.”
Before taking on the project, Builders for Christ required Harvest Fellowship officials to answer a battery of questions, according to Corley. Questions covered financials, ministry work, site plans and permitting, he said.
Many volunteers crawling across the site Friday were piecing together the 255 roof trusses that Morley said a large crane would begin hoisting aloft Saturday.
The project, he said, involves 500 sheets of wall sheathing, 800 sheets of plywood roof decking, more than 400,000 nails, 3,000 feet of air hose, 30 pneumatic nail guns and three air compressors “the size of water heaters.”
There’s also onsite security around the clock, Ronnie Bunch added.
Corley calls building churches “my spiritual hobby.”
“You meet people you mightn’t already have known, and you don’t have to wait to get to heaven to get acquainted. You get to do that right here,” he said.
Ronnie Bunch hopes services will begin in the new church building by Thanksgiving.