For four years, Robert Campbell has spent long evenings and weekend vigils at Shiloh Baptist Church of Ardmore, but he never worshiped at the suburban Maryland church until Sunday.
Last Sunday, the congregation of 300 ended a 12-year labor of love when they joyfully and tearfully dedicated the church that they themselves had built almost entirely with their own hands and skills.
"I've reached milestones in my live before," said Campbell last Sunday, "but this is the biggest." Campbell, along with the church pastor, the Rev. Paul P. Pitchford, and what became known as "the faithful few," labored every weekend and weekday evening over the past four years to build the church.
Their reward: a building valued at more than $700,000 that cost $230,000 to construct and on which the congregation owes only $100,000. This translates into a savings of nearly a half-million dollars over a conventional schedule of financing and construction, Campbell told a reporter. Campbell, and executive with the Chesapeake and Potomac Telephone Co., was supervisor of construction.
"I know some of your own homes went neglected and family nerves were worn raw," said Pitchford Sunday from the pulpit, "but I think when you look around at our beautiful new church, you'll see it was all worth it."
For the past 12 years, the congregation worshiped at the Glenarden Town Hall, "which was comfortable but not a home," one member said.It was Pitchford who brought the congregation's dream of a church within reach when he came to a church meeting in early 1976, carrying a set of building plans.
Pitchford, 58, a skilled laborer/construction supervisor who became a minister seven years ago, convinced the reluctant membership that the $35,000 they had accumulated as a congregation could buy a lot of bricks and mortor. Pitchford whould teach the basically white-collar congregation what to do with them. Campbell was one of the first to accept the idea and agree to help.
Shortly afterward, the land was dedicated, the foundation dug and the years of work began.
The women of the church carried their share of the building by bringing hot meals to the workers.
"We have a lot of sweat and hardship tied up in this church," said deacon James Ferguson, one of the "faithful few." "But I guess we'll appreciate it all that much more."
Another frequent after-5 laborer was James Newton, who has a bad back following the heavy lifting, "but it was worth it," he said Sunday.
The building wasn't without hardship as the congregation fought for years to have a road built to their land-locked property. Then the county had to be persuaded to approve building plans and thieves stole thousands of dollars worth of lumber, scaffolding, a generator and even a portable toilet. Local building codes that were updated during the construction also resulted in confusion and needless labor. At one point, when the congregation needed a loan, it had trouble getting one. "I think the reason we had so much trouble getting under way was that nobody thought we could do it," said Pitchford. The pastor himself does not accept a salary from his congregation, and earns his livelihood by hauling steel in his 18-ton wheel tractor-trailor rig.
Pichford repeatedly reminded his congregation Sunday that "we've just begun, that a church building [alone] does not make a church and that now we must go out and serve the community."
Campbell and Pitchford said that their work is not finished.
"Our wives have lists of things we need to do around the house now that we don't have an excuse anymore," said Campbell.
Campbell said the congregation was invited by another pastor to build another new church "because he thought we did such a good job." Campbell said he laughed and responded that "once in a lifetime is enough."