by Ardeana Hamlin
of The Weekly staff
EXETER — What a difference the past two decades have meant for the Cornerstone Baptist Church.
What began as an empty church building falling into ruin with the weight of time 19 years ago has grown into an imposing edifice that can accommodate more than 550 people for worship services, with additional space for meetings, Sunday school and church-related functions.
Cornerstone Baptist Church will mark the grand opening of its newest and most ambitious building project Saturday and Sunday, April 6-7, at the church, 1195 Stetson Road. The celebration will feature a concert by Greater Vision at 6 p.m. Saturday. On Sunday, Greater Vision, The Hyssongs, and Dr. Wendell Calder will be featured at 10 a.m., followed by a potluck lunch. Greater Vision in concert will take place at 6 p.m., followed by fireworks.
The events are free and open to all.
The new addition, which encompasses 16,000 square feet and measures 92 feet by 92 feet, houses an auditorium with state of the art multi-media system, several nurseries, rest rooms and choir room. Space also is available for an envisioned banquet facility.
One hallmark of the new addition, and the structure, in general, is its level of comfort and accommodation to the needs of its members. One room provides a private space for nursing mothers. A ramp and an elevator make the structure wheelchair accessible. The graceful lines of pews, brass chandeliers and curving stair railings are pleasing to the eye. The pews have padded backs and seats. The auditorium ceiling is broad and high enough to encompass and hold safe the heartfelt spirit of praise of church members.
“God has done something miraculous in Exeter that has never been done before. This church has been built completely debt free. It’s from everyone doing their part,” said Stan Griffin, pastor of the church, who has seen one generation of parishioners grow into adults who now bring their children to the church.
Griffin, who grew up in Levant in a Christian family that embraced the Baptist tradition, said he knew from the time he was a teenager that he was called to preach. “You sense that in your spirit,” he said. “I wasn’t happy unless I was telling someone about Christ.”
But he was 32, and it was 1994 before he began to take steps toward making that calling a full reality. He didn’t have a church, and he didn’t have a congregation, but when he heard that the Exeter Baptist Church, constructed in the 1850s, was vacant, he went to take a look at it.
From that point on, he with his wife, Lori, who died of cancer in 2000, began to rehabilitate the old church and, in the process, build a congregation.
“We saw a closed church building that should be open,” Griffin said. “At the time, I said, ‘I believe in the gospel and the message: Here’s a church that needs opening,’” Griffin said, recalling those early days. Now, the church draws members from Exeter, Hermon, Levant, Kenduskeag, Bangor, Brewer, Hampden, Newburgh and other area towns.
It took three building programs to bring Cornerstone Baptist Church to its present configuration. The first in 1995 upgraded and updated the old church building, including new pews and a basement where the kitchen was housed.
In 2000, an ell was added to house classrooms, restrooms and offices.
The new addition was begun in 2010 and completed this year. Griffin said the credit for its design goes to Keith Whitaker of Ministry Design Services, a ministry of the local church in Plymouth, according to its website.
“God has blessed us,” Griffin said.
Cornerstone Baptist Church holds worship services 10-11 a.m. and 6-7 p.m. each Sunday. Sunday school is in session 8:30-9:30 a.m. each Sunday. For information, call 379-4343 or go to www.cbcexeter.com.