Building on faith

Saturday, July 13, 2002

PERRYVILLE, Mo.

When ministers speak about building the temple of God rarely do they mean that church members should take on an actual construction project with wood, bricks and mortar.

But that's exactly what the members of First Baptist Church here are doing this summer.

With volunteer labor, the congregation is rebuilding its sanctuary, remodeling its existing space and adding classrooms, a kitchen and fellowship areas.

The construction is being done strictly with help from teams in the Cape Girardeau Baptist Association and others working throughout the summer. Similar groups came to Fruitland, Mo., last summer to help build the Fruitland Community Church.

The Rev. Dennis Cebulak, pastor, expects the work to be finished by mid-November. He'd like the congregation to celebrate Thanksgiving in a new sanctuary.

Rain delayed some of the work in early May but things seem to be on schedule now.

"The women in the church said if the men didn't start picking up hammers soon, they were going to do it," Cebulak said.

Once the building gets under a roof, construction is expected to progress quickly. "It's a half-million dollar project with volunteer labor," he said. "It would be a million and a half otherwise."

Cebulak, who has been pastor of the Perryville church for about 18 months, told the congregation when he arrived what they already knew: their space was inadequate.

Cebulak said the church tried to relocate but couldn't find any land and prices were too high. The church property on West Main Street has a sinkhole that cannot be filled because it also serves as a catch basin in heavy rains. Residential houses and some businesses surround the lot, leaving little room for future expansion.

But those factors didn't deter the church. "I guess God wants us to stay here," Cebulak said.

Shortly after the congregation finalized plans to remain on West Main, the church received a $160,000 gift beyond what the membership was giving toward the project.

"Everything you see so far is already paid for," Cebulak said pointing to stacks of lumber and roofing trusses.

In just a week, all the walls were built and put in place. This week crews were finishing walls in a basement fellowship area while others in their group put trusses on the roof.

Roger Jeffries of Columbia, Mo., came to Perryville to help with construction. He works with Campers on Mission, a Southern Baptist organization that works primarily with construction projects. Over the years he's built campground buildings, an adobe church in Arizona and buildings on an Indian reservation out west.

"You haven't seen the last of us," Jeffries told Cebulak as the two men talked during a break.

Until the work is complete, the congregation has been meeting in the elementary school renting the gymnasium and classroom space while their church is under construction. "We're living out of a van where our sound equipment is," the pastor said. Church members must set up and take down the pulpit and rows of chairs used in worship each Sunday.

And many come by the construction site during the week to expedite progress. Brad Stephens spent part of the day Tuesday knocking out bricks in the existing building's exterior so that a new doorway can be created. Part of the construction work covered an exterior entrance to the church offices, so a new doorway is being made.

"They're very excited and have been waiting a long time," Cebulak said.

ljohnston@semissourian.com

335-6611, extension 126

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