With a last minute bank loan and limitless enthusiasm, a Clarksburg congregation was able to do what experts said was impossible -- they build a church for less than $50,000.
Despite warnings from banks and contractors that even a simple church could not be built for less than $100,000, the 70 members of Berea Bible Church refused to be dissuaded.
They decided to build the church themselves. Sunday, after 3,000 labor hours worked over a 14-month period, the congregation dedicated its two-story cinderblock church in upper Montgomery County.
"We knew it was going to be quite a project," said the Rev. Ronald Klein, pastor of the church. "We weren't sure if we had the know-how to finish, so we built a test model in my back yard." The model, a small storage room, was a success so the congregation moved onward.
"We cleared away three-quarters of an acre of trees and part of a cornfield by hand," said Klein. He and church members spent their evenings and weekends at the hillside work site at Stringtown Road and Neddle Drive in rural Clarksburg.
Women and children carried logs from the woods and sold them as firewood. Others discovered latent talents in plumbing, painting, and electrical work.
Although Klein refused to ask for cash donations from businesses and individuals, "I let it be known that we were building a church and needed anything anybody could give us," he said.
Church members retrieved bathroom fixtures from a dumpster after they heard a hospital had thrown them away. When a Woodward and Lothrop store installed new lights, the church took the old ones. Women made curtains, from bedsheets and painted chairs, from a variety of donors, which substitute for pews. It was this ingenuity that enabled the congregation at the independent church to accomplish the allegedly impossible mission.
"Builders told us the going rate for a commercial structure was $60 to $80 a square foot," said Klein. "It ended up costing us $20 a square foot!"
Although the building is stark, the congregation is pleased with its creation. "We used to have to meet in different places every week," said Lynn Germon. "Now we can meet whenever we want for as long as we want."
Members no longer will have to be inconvenienced carrying supplies like church school books, playpens and nursery toys to different locations on Sundays, Germon noted.
Klein, who has been pastor of the congregation from its beginning seven years ago, said he is relieved now that there is a Bible church in upper Montgomery county.
It was only luck, he recalls, that got the church building campaign on its feet. After several banks turned down the congregation's loan application, saying the venture was impossible, finally a retired pastor on the board of one bank "stood up for the church," and the loan was made.
The church is designed for maximum flexibility and energy conservation. Ten windows on the west face of the church let in sunlight and warmth. Within several years, phase two of the church's plans will allow members easily to build an L-shaped addition.
The project was a lot more difficult to accomplish than anyone expected, said Germon. But she added that church members grew closer during the year's struggle. "We used to make an occasion out of it with a picnic or games," she said.
Following a day spent in spreading concrete, another member, David Dillon, said he gained real respect for people who have done that kind of work all day.
"I really learned what they mean by 'grunt work,' " said the oceanographer. "You really do grunt when you work that hard."