HOULTON, Maine — The quest to build a new church for parishioners of Military Street Baptist Church took another step forward on a recent Sunday when a groundbreaking ceremony was held on Drake’s Hill.
The group has been looking at building a new sanctuary for about eight years after discovering a multitude of renovations were needed to their building on the corner of Military and Kelleran streets, according to the Rev. Randall Burns.
“We were at a point where we needed to declare action up there and were at a place to do that,” Burns said. “We’re starting the next phase of our campaign and it was good to get some spades in the soil to get things going.”
Construction of a new church, however, likely will not begin until the spring of 2012 at the earliest, he said.
The project is known as the “City on a Hill” campaign, because the original Military Street Baptist Church was located on the hill near the former Ricker Classical Institute before Houlton’s “Great Fire” in the late 1800s.
“About eight years ago, the church was growing at a fast rate and we decided our best days were ahead of us,” Burns said. “As we were looking ahead to what is needed to do mission work, we looked at the needs of our present building. We use that building hard, and that’s a good thing.”
Burns said aside from the obvious lack of accessibility for the handicapped, there are a number of structural and cosmetic issues with the existing building. The stained glass needs upgrading, as do the floors, roof and electrical wiring.
“We got some rough estimates of what it would cost us to get our present structure improved and it was a million dollars and higher,” Burns said. “And with all that, it didn’t give us any more space or parking.”
The church then decided to begin searching for a new location. The late Dallas Henderson and the late Dr. Phil Dwyer were two church members who came up with the vision of the “City on a Hill” movement. Their children, Sam Henderson and Jim Dwyer, are carrying on their families’ roles with the project. The “City on a Hill” team is composed of Brian Gardiner, Sam Henderson and Bill Goetsch, along with Burns.
Leaving the existing church behind is not without its negatives, Burns admitted.
“For some people, this church is a sacred and special place with a lot of sentimental value attached to it,” he said.
The group explored a number of different sites to build a new church. When the group reached the parcel of land on Drake’s Hill, they knew they had found their new home.
“We walked out into the field and it was extraordinary,” Burns said. “Every single one of us felt that this site was where we needed to be.”
The group purchased the 48-acre parcel and began a growth fund to start raising money to build the new church. To date, they have raised about $1.5 million, but must come up with an additional $880,000 in new pledges, Burns said.
Plans call for the construction of a multipurpose facility that can be used throughout the week instead of just on Sundays. The group plans to rely on its parishioners for “sweat equity” to aid in the construction, Burns said.
“This isn’t just a project to make our church bigger,” Burns said. “It’s about ‘How do we minister to the town better?’ and ‘How do we make space that’s available to the community?’ That is where the multipurpose building idea was born. It’s about us trying to respond to God’s calling for us to reach out and offer more for the community.”
The group envisions building a sanctuary that can be used for worship on Sunday, but also changed over to host banquets, wedding receptions or conventions, complete with a large kitchen area. A children’s play area also may be included for parents to bring their children in the winter. A coffee shop and hospitality center are other ideas being considered.
Hosting Christian sports events is another possibility. Greater Houlton Christian Academy uses some of the land for its cross-country runners to train.
“We’re trying to envision a lot of ways that the land can be used by the community,” Burns said. “We’ve dreamed about a lot of possibilities and remain open to all of them.”
Before any construction can take place, Burns said additional permits must be obtained from the town and Department of Environmental Protection due to ponds and wetlands on the property. Water and sewer lines also must be negotiated with the town.
“It’s hard to put a timetable on, because everything is taking twice as long as we thought,” Burns said. “If the finances and permits come together by next spring, we will be ready to go.”
The church hopes to either sell its existing building or keep it and turn it into the headquarters for the Adopt-A-Block and Celebrate Recovery missionary programs.
To donate to the church’s fundraising effort, call the parsonage at 532-2783.