Divine inspiration: Local churches see growth, building projects in 2005

Sunday, February 19, 2006
The Rev. Mike Shupert stood in the sanctuary of the new building for First Baptist Church in Cape Girardeau. The building is under construction on Lexington Avenue near Cape Rock Drive.

For First Baptist Church of Cape Girardeau, a new building has meant a new enthusiasm among the congregation.

The Rev. Mike Shupert, First Baptist's pastor, said the new facility has inspired the congregation to reinvent its ministry.

"We're trying to emphasize niche ministry, finding those things we do well and that our people are gifted at," said Shupert.

First Baptist's new location at the corner of Lexington Avenue and Cape Rock Drive has an activity center, education building, offices and 250-seat sanctuary on 10 acres of land. The congregation began meeting there in January, though construction of the sanctuary wasn't finished until mid-February.

"We love it," said Shupert. "It's all one level now, and we really like that aspect of it."

Now that they're in the new space, the congregation is considering several new programs, including mothers' day out, ministering to international university students and hiring someone to oversee youth ministry.

First Baptist is one of several churches in Cape Girardeau County that recently completed or have ongoing construction projects.

In December, New McKendree United Methodist Church in Jackson opened its Celebration Center on Highway 25 in Cape Girardeau County. The center serves as a second site for the growing congregation and allowed the church to expand its Sunday services. It features four large adult classrooms, a child-care/toddler area, an information center in the entry, an office, large kitchen and a sanctuary/dining hall that can seat 300.

Second site developed

New McKendree pastor John Rice said his church is the fifth United Methodist church in Missouri to develop a second site. Nationwide, there are about 2,000 churches of various denominations with multisite ministries, according to Rice.

"We're in the middle of a vital growing community, and this increases our capacity to offer ministry to people," Rice said.

In Cape Girardeau, La Croix United Methodist Church on Lexington Avenue recently finished construction on a $7 million new worship center. The new worship space tripled the seating capacity, alleviating overcrowding at services.

First Presbyterian Church at the corner of Broadway and Lorimier Street wrapped up a $1 million renovation in 2004.

St. Andrew Lutheran Church Girardeau is currently renovating classrooms, adding an elevator and increasing parking.

The $2.6 million capital campaign is called "A time to tear down, a time to build." And that's exactly what is happening, said the Rev. Paul Short, pastor at St. Andrew.

The project includes a new entry for the south side of the building, an elevator, a 22-foot-wide atrium/concourse with skylights that will connect the worship sanctuary and fellowship areas and expanded classrooms. Work is expected to wrap up in the spring of 2006.

First Assembly of God Church in Jackson, Cross Roads Contemporary Baptist Church, the Jehovah's Witness of Jackson and First Baptist Church in Whitewater are other Cape Girardeau County congregations that began construction projects in 2005. Trinity Lutheran School in Cape Girardeau has an ongoing capital campaign for a new multipurpose center.

The school held a groundbreaking ceremony in January to begin construction for the new center.

There are now an estimated 100-plus places to worship in Cape Girardeau County. While most are small Protestant churches, a few have more than 1,000 attendees. There are also a variety of faiths; local churches include a mosque for Muslims.

While there has been a recent building boom, religion has always been an important part of the local community.

The first church organized in Cape Girardeau was Catholic -- St. Vincent's Catholic Church in 1833. In 1839, the parish dedicated its first building, which was later destroyed by a tornado. The church was rebuilt and still stands, more than 150 years after its construction.

Still in service

Old McKendree Chapel is the oldest Protestant church west of the Mississippi that is still being used for worship services. The structure, similar to a log cabin, was built between 1818 and 1819 and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The church sits on property outside of Jackson and was the first location for Methodist worship services in the area.

Several new churches in the area have gotten starts meeting in local stores, theaters and community buildings. After gaining members, churches such as La Croix United Methodist built new facilities on Lexington Avenue. That area is now home to many of the city's congregations, including La Croix, Christ Presbyterian and Lynwood Baptist.

cmiller@semissourian.com

335-6611, extension 128

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