Time to Build Again
Though the old church on Jefferson had served its members well for many years, they were quickly outgrowing the space and it was showing some “wear and tear”. Member Marsha Jones chuckled as she recalled “most weeks one could count on ruining a pair of stockings on the splinters from the wooden pews”! After thoughtful prayer and consideration, a committee was formed in 1965 to look at the options available for a new building. Finally, land was purchased at the corner of 7th Street and Powell here in Riverton. Once again, after the work of many dedicated people, groundbreaking for our present-day church happened October 23, 1966. Member Gary Brenizer seemed to recall the Dambachers (long time past members) hauled loads of dirt in from what is now the area by Francis Pizza (once the Red Fox grocery store) to fill in some of the swampy areas before work could begin. Construction began early November 1966, and on August 6, 1967 the first service was held in the new building! What ever happened to the old church over on Jefferson St., you might wonder? The old church was purchased by the school district for the price of $12,000, and the property was used to add on a band room and kindergarten classroom. Since things were quite old and beat up, there were no plans to bring the furnishings to the new building. So the members were allowed to take mementoes before the building was demolished. Stain glass windows found new life in the homes of members of the church, as did some of the pews. Those who were handy, crafted things such as jewelry boxes and book ends from the trim work found in the building. Of course the bell made the trip to the new church, as did one piece of stained glass and the podium that is presently in our chapel.
When all was said and done, the new building, costing $138,000 mortgaged over 20 years would seat 342 people in the sanctuary, or a total of 600 if you included the fellowship area. It also included an education wing, kitchen, pastor’s study, office area and five restrooms! In August of 1967, the members and the community enjoyed their first ever air conditioned classrooms for VBS! Member Sue Tisdale remembered her first time worshipping in the new building, saying it was “Awesome”!
No time for standing still, the church continued to grow! The ladies in the church began volunteering at the Christian nursing home in Lincoln, IL around 1971. Several “Timothy’s” were sent out into the mission field during this time, and giving to the missions was increased as well. The old parsonage at 129 N 9th Street in Riverton was sold for $10,000.00, but part of the land was retained for the construction of a new parsonage at 820 E. Washington St ($25,000.00).
In 1974, a choir was formed by Mrs. Wendall Turley, and by the year 1976, the church attendance set a record of 326! The women’s quilting group who had worked so hard raising funds for the old church, by the time they had moved to the new building, its members were growing old, so eventually the group was no more. However, the men in the church continued their Men’s Fellowship meetings until sometime in the late 60’s-early 70’s. Don “Sarge” Jones recalls every month they’d meet at a different area Christian church for dinner and fellowship. Pauline Orme would be in charge of cooking at our church, and it was affectionately known as “Bean Supper”! Sarge also recalls he and longtime member of the past, Bob Griffin had their own men’s ministry called S.H.A.R.E., Sharing Hearts at Riverton are Eager, where they would help others in the church family with projects they might not be able to do on their own!
Not only were the children’s Bible classes bursting at the seams, the adult classes were as well. The Christian Workers, The Friendship Class, and the Ambassadors class were just a few of the adult classes who would meet weekly for Sunday school. Karen Davis recalls when her husband Norm led a class, they met in the old kitchen. Every chair around the table was filled, so people would sit up on the counters, filling those as well! Every Christmas the class would meet out at the Davis country home and celebrate with their families. Longtime member of the past Mike Steele would dress up like Santa Claus, and parents would wrap a gift for their child for Santa to hand out at the party! The Ambassador’s class also enjoyed each other’s company! Halloween parties were a fall favorite, and everyone would dress in costume. Marsha Jones recalls one year Sarge dressed as Frankenstein complete with elevated boots! He had such a distinctive walk, Marsha said, that everyone would know Sarge just by his gait. However this year, the boots did the trick at keeping his identity a secret! In addition to having lots of fun and being like family to each other, the adult Sunday school classes when not studying the scriptures in class, always supported the “Timothy’s” of the church as well as several missions. Many fond memories began in Sunday school!
The church family continued to grow, but as with all families, much loved members went on to be with the Lord. Ray Barclay remembers the day when his neighbor Bob Griffin, came to ask him for a favor. At the time, Ray and his wife Charlotte were not attending the church. However, Bob wanted the church to have a memorial board to honor the memory of all those who had passed. So Bob approached Ray and asked if he would build a board that would include engraved brass name plates of passed members. Ray thought about a design and knew it should have a cross as a focal point. When he visited an area lumber store one day, he saw a piece of walnut laying on the floor. And at that moment, he saw the cross within it! If you look closely, you can see how he arranged the pieces of the cross to where one can envision the blood stains from Jesus’ hands and feet! Ray remembered it was while working on the memorial board that he realized the church is where he and Charlotte needed to be, and they’ve been members ever since! Ray continues his ministry today of adding name plates whenever the church family loses one of their members. If you notice, the very first name plate on the upper left side is blank. When asked, Ray said it was his way of connecting all those who came before with the others on the board! He hopes that when he is no longer able to continue this ministry, someone else in the church will step in. He said there is still plenty of blank name plates, and even when those are filled, it was designed so that new rows can be created between the old rows. Ray is thankful to Bob Griffin for bringing him to the church simply by reaching out to him knowing his love of carpentry! Once the Barclays were attending regularly, Ray found another ministry in the late 80’s where he could use his carpentry skills yet again! Up until this time, the chapel area was mostly made of cinder block and was used as storage. Ray began working to create the small, intimate worship area we now enjoy. Having a deep connection with crosses, Ray wanted to be sure the chapel pointed others “to the cross” as well! He designed the woodwork on the chapel ceiling so the beams would meet to form crosses, and the cross on the altar was crafted so the center points meet as a way to show “Christ is the Center”. The pews were all donated in memory of others, and a plaque was placed at the back of the chapel in their memory. After many long hours of love and hard work, the chapel was complete! Since that time, it has been used for worship services, Sunday school classes, prayer groups, weddings, communion services, and even converted to a “campsite” a “space ship control room” and many other wonderful destinations for our VBS programs over the years!
While continuing to serve the community, the leadership decided to provide an alternative to public school for the children in our area. So in 1993, the church opened the doors to the Riverton Christian Academy, which provided a Christian education for grades K-12. The academy had three paid employees and the rest was done by dedicated volunteers. Member Angela Mueller, one of the three salaried positions as Kindergarten teacher, remembered her years at the Academy: Early on, Sharon Zake was the secretary, followed by Cindy Moore (present day church secretary). Rob Bjerk held the position of principal, and these were the three paid positions. Every day, Charlotte Barclay would come and help prepare the kids lunches and supervise during lunch time. Jack and Karen Nichols, Mary Jane Dunn, Shirley Lee, Sue Tisdale, and Joan Stone were also among the devoted volunteers who helped on a daily/regular basis. Pastor Frank Lewis helped out with chapel time, and Renee McCoy came for years to do music with the students. Once she wasn’t able to come, Phyllis Merritt stepped in and provided musical programs and dramas. Anne Baldridge came for a couple years on her lunch hour to do PE with the kids in the old fellowship area (pre family life center), then Rob Bjerk continued after Anne was no longer able to help. Linda Lewis would come in weekly for special history classes with the older students and they’d work on larger history projects. Carol Norton would come in for music weekly with Angela’s kindergarten kids, as well as another grandma who came for library time. Juanita Smith, Amy Szoke and Jason Nichols and several others were also among the people Angela recalled as part of the Academy’s family of volunteers. The Academy continued educating the students for nearly ten years, with the highest enrollment somewhere in the 30’s. The leadership decided to close the doors at the end of the 2002 school year, but many children had been blessed by the love and dedication of the staff and volunteers during those ten years!
As the church membership continued to grow, space became a concern once again. So the leadership began to pray about the best way to meet the needs of our growing family. After much discussion and prayer, it was decided we’d build a Family Life Center (FLC)! The suggestion was made to hire a consulting firm who would help guide us in order to get the funds and support needed for the extensive building project. Member Jerry Van Meter remembered how many in the church were nervous about hiring a consulting firm to help coordinate the fundraising efforts for the FLC. Spending $17,000 just to learn how to raise money was something the church had never done before, but it proved to be money well spent. In response to the advice given, the “Lift Up Your Eyes” campaign began in earnest! Cottage prayer meetings were held weekly in the home of Elder Gary and Janelle Brenizer, and other members also hosted their own small prayer groups and informational meetings. The campaign resulted in an overwhelming majority vote from the congregation to proceed with the building.
As with any large project, it required the dedication of many helpers to be sure the project stayed on track. Elder Richard Carlson, a construction worker by trade, was one of those who gave of his time to help from the beginning. Richard recalls initially there were two different designs they were considering. The first was a school based design that would have been two floors with classrooms running along the upper side of a gym. However, this design was more costly and even though the Academy was still in operation, the attendance didn’t see to warrant the extra expense of this design. So it was decided to use the design that is now part of the church. Jerry Van Meter, chairman of the Board of Elders during this time, was a builder by profession, said the building was constructed like a pole barn with metal on the outside in order to help keep costs down. Richard also recalled that this was during the time when handicap accessibility was on the forefront of construction projects, and this design worked better in tying the two buildings together while allowing us to add the handicap accessible restrooms.
Having been blessed with several people in our congregation who had a background in construction, the project was in good hands! Richard remembers visiting the construction site most days as a type of “quality control”. He said trucks would come and unload large prefab pieces that were labeled, then the construction crew would come in, sort through the pieces and start putting them together. The area was not yet paved, so if it rained, the grounds would often be muddy. But being the professionals they were, the construction crew would do their best to try to straighten up the area as best as they could!
At last, the day had finally arrived! On Palm Sunday, March 28, 1999, the congregation celebrated communion for the first time in the Family Life Center! Linda Lewis recalled the day very clearly: After the worship service, the choir proceeded out of the sanctuary and create a pathway from the sanctuary to the brand new FLC. As the choir sang, children who had been placed between the choir members waved palm fronds as the congregation made their way into the new building. Families sat together at tables while everyone received communion together! Linda remembered just how dedicated the members of this committee had been to see the project to the end: “Ray Barclay coordinated all the plans and the selection of the builder, but we were blessed with a number of men who worked in construction and therefore added their skills at every point. Men, like Jerry VanMeter and Ray Lee were among this group. Ray Barclay was there as much as he could with a full-time job, but Richard Carlson was the one who oversaw the day to day construction. With his background in heavy machinery and building, he was a great blessing. Also Charlotte and Ray headed the selection of materials, paint colors, the protected wall coverings, etc. which became a real boon and really helped us during VBS. They were particularly careful to find ways to keep the Family Life Center as useful as possible for all kinds of activities and therefore, really strived to keep it as sound sensitive as possible. A group of us had visited several such buildings and found them so noisy that we were concerned how to deaden the sounds so that the gatherings, dinners, plays etc. could be a friendly as possible. That’s why there is a special ceiling and carpet on the walls. It is truly a blessing that so much careful thought, investigation, and dedication went into every square inch of the construction. Praise God!”
As do all the others who were involved in the FLC project, Linda Lewis knows without a doubt the reason why this undertaking was so successful is because the entire congregation stood behind the project and it was continually covered in prayer! She continued with her memory of the events surrounding the project: “One other story that is special is one that member Ruth Keener tells. When the talk of a the Family Life Center first began, Ruth’s husband Herb, one of the deacons at this time, thought it was too out of reach for our congregation. Then, Frank Lewis, pastor at the time, asked him and Ruth to head up the prayer committee, which oversaw the cottage prayer meetings, etc. That’s where God really did His work in all of us, as He took us from “this is a huge project and though we know we’d like to do this, it seems so very big” to a congregation of believers who “knew nothing could stop us from accomplishing what God wanted for the growth of His Church!” Herb, too, shared how his mind and heart became convinced that “nothing is impossible with God!” Those months were alive, as day after day God showed His glory! It was such fun to be part of it all!” Clearly, the Lord’s hand was with them as always and the building continues to be a blessing not only to the congregation but the community as well!
As you can see, nothing in the church just “happened”. Behind every decision, every detail, someone or many have prayed and dedicated much love and effort into creating this beautiful building we call our “home”! Before leaving today, take a few minutes to stop and really look at the many ways the Lord has blessed us over the years, give thanks for His grace and pray He continues to bless us as we continue to bring more people to the Lord!