Amid a cloud of sawdust and the din of blades and hammers on wood, a modest white frame house in Northeast Washington is being transformed into a house of prayer.
By July, the 25-member congregation of the Bible Baptist Church, formerly in a storefront at 2203 Minnesota Ave. SE, is scheduled to move into the two-story structure at 4221 Jay St. NE. Once completed, the building will be worth more than $200,000, according to the church's founding pastor, the Rev. James Parker.
Yet, he explained yesterday, the renovated church -- designed to serve 100 worshipers -- will cost about half that sum because of some good old-fashioned Christian charity. Thirty volunteers from a sister church in Metuchen, N.J., volunteered to lend their backs and construction work skills, mostly newly acquired, to the effort.
It's the second time in two years that the men of First Baptist have picked up their tools and hit the road in the service of their faith.
"We're the First Baptist Construction Crew of Metuchen," quipped the Rev. James Miller, pastor of the New Jersey church that, like Bible Baptist, is part of the 1,100-church Conservative Baptist Home Mission. He said be believes his congregation, located about 20 miles south of Newark, should help other congregations do God's work.
"This facility could do that," Miller said, standing in soiled work clothes with hand tools hanging from his waist. "It will just take a lot of work."
The Metuchen workers, most of them in their thirties and forties, went cheerfully about their labors in the hot sun. Most, they said, were no more than weekend handymen.
Only four among them said they were professional builders; the rest represent a variety of backgrounds including a pilot and an IBM executive.
"Anyone can drive a nail if you tell him where to drive it," church member Jerry Lee joked during a rare break. But to the unsuspecting, they looked and sounded like seasoned construction workers, some working barebacked and talking beams and floor boards.
Jim McCall, a First Baptist Church member and a professional contractor, is in charge of the construction. The workers said he assigns the tasks and sees that they are done properly. Meanwhile, everyone learns -- the hard way -- that a church is much more than a steeple and stained glass windows.
Miller said his congregation got into the volunteer construction business last year when they learned that a bible camp in Nova Scotia was in dire need of a chapel.
"They started on Thursday and we had service in the new chapel Sunday morning," recalled Bob Boger, of the Nova Scotia bible camp. "The Lord gave us 150 kids and no place to put them. Then the men from New Jersey came in and built [the 40-by-60 foot sanctuary] from the concrete foundation to the cross on top."
Boger, who flew to Washington from Canada this week, said he came to the Northeast construction site to begin to return the favor.
The new church, rising from a rocky plot of land in a lower middle-class neighborhood, will be led by the Rev. Clarence Parker, cousin to the church's founder, James Parker. After the Metuchen workers are finished, James Parker said, private contractors will be hired to complete the building.
As he spoke, James Parker could not resist studying the old white-walled building that was taking on the familiar cast of a church. "When I look at this it makes me feel great," he said. "It's a miracle of God.