BANGOR, Maine — When the Rock Church gave up its Brewer location earlier this year, it seemed as if man had interfered with God’s plan to expand and grow the congregation.
On Sunday, Pastor Kirk Winters said that in retrospect, it looks like God was in charge all along and what seemed like a setback was really a push from the Almighty for the church to expand in Bangor.
“The city of Bangor has approved our building permit,” Winters announced at the 10 a.m. worship service. “Now, we’re waiting on the appraisal to come back so we can get the financing. Let’s all pray that these things come together this month.”
The congregation hopes to break ground in late August or early September on a 6,000-square-foot addition to its current building located at 1195 Ohio St. Plans call for the $613,000 structure to be completed by Christmas. It will include a 411-seat sanctuary with a state-of-the-art sound and light system, cafe, offices, conference room, nursery space and restrooms, Winters said Sunday. The plan calls for nearly $200,000 to be raised in an ongoing capital campaign and for the rest to be borrowed.
The new building will allow the church to hold two services on Sundays rather than four over a weekend, the pastor said. The current sanctuary seats about 150 and is packed during most services. Once the new building is finished, the older one will be devoted to the church’s children’s ministry, Winters said Sunday.
Winters, 44, of Glenburn founded the Rock Church in Bangor in 2005 and purchased the former Pentecostal church located on 10½ acres of land bordered by Ohio Street and Finson Road. The congregation grew so rapidly that within a year, Winters was conducting two crowded services on Sunday mornings.
By summer 2009, four services — one on Saturday and three on Sundays — were needed to accommodate everyone. That September, the church began renting space once occupied by Bob’s Discount Store in the North Brewer Shopping Plaza.
In January, the Rock Church applied for a permit to expand in the shopping center from about 4,500 square feet to 14,000 square feet because of an increased number of worshippers. Brewer’s code enforcement officer, who was not employed by the city when the church moved into the space, denied the permit.
A church is not allowed in the strip mall because of the city’s zoning laws, Ben Breadmore, Brewer’s code enforcement officer said in March, when the church moved out of the space and back to Bangor. Breadmore’s predecessor signed the original building permit for the church in 2009.
Dana Cassidy, the owner of the shopping plaza, in April sued Brewer in U.S. District Court in Bangor claiming that he has been harmed economically because the city’s land use regulations “treat the church unequally and discriminate against it on the basis of religion.” The case is pending.
The Rock Church did not sue the city, Winters said Sunday. The minister did have conversations earlier this year with attorneys in the U.S. Department of Justice about whether the city’s denial of the new building permit was a violation of the Religious Land Use and Instutionalized Persons Act.
“I spoke to the Department of Justice three times,” the pastor said. “‘You have a case,’ they said. I started thinking about how we could have a new building here debt-free.”
Before he went too far down that road, Winters said he remembered Paul’s letter in Romans 12:19: “Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God; for it is written, ‘Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.’”
The pastor and the leadership of the church decided it would be better for the congregation to put its energies into building for the future than seeking revenge for the past.
In seeking out a builder for the project, the church turned inward to Robert Perry of Hermon. He said Sunday he most often takes on residential and light commercial projects, but he did build the Islamic Center of Maine in Orono, completed in January 2010.
Perry attended services at Rock Church in Brewer for several years but now worships in Bangor.
“Once the new building is finished, I feel there will be a more cohesive feeling to the congregation,” he said Sunday. “We’ll feel more connected. I went to church in Brewer and now that we are here, there are people at different services that I’ve never met before.
The new building be a pretty simple structure with vinyl siding and an asphalt roof, Perry said.
“There are no bells or whistles but the building will serve the congregation’s needs with two services instead of four,” he said.
Winters said having four services has been a strain on staff and volunteers.
“We’ve also lost about 120 people since we left Brewer,” he said. “I can’t quite tell if that’s because it’s summer or not yet, but the new building will give us more room for growth.