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Church congregation rehabilitating fire hall into a place to save souls

| Sunday, Nov. 3, 2002

Faith Chapel Church's small congregation thinks big.

The 60-member congregation has been working for more than a year to convert the old fire hall across from the church on Lawrence Street in Cecil into a community outreach center. A final site plan has been approved and a building permit issued for the center.

"Up to this point, we've pretty much done everything ourselves, 100 percent," said the Rev. Jim O'Brian, pastor of the church for 19 years. "We have a small congregation, but they are a very faithful group. Everyone is pitching in."

Ron Matich, the church treasurer and a congregation member for 19 years, said many church members have parlayed skills developed through jobs or hobbies to help rehabilitate the old Lawrence Fire Hall.

"The Lord has provided us with a lot of different talents," Matich said. "The members are doing all the electrical work, all the plumbing."

"We're either handy or we're learning," said Denny Doverspike, assistant pastor.

Plans are for the center to emerge as another mission tool for Faith Chapel, O'Brian said.

"The thought is that this is going to be an extension of the church," he said.

The center could serve as a place for children to go to after school and a teen hang-out on Friday nights, and senior citizens could have lunch there.

"That's why we came up with the name the 'Outreach Center.' It will be an outreach center to the community," he said. "We thought we'd be doing a lot of youth activities there, but we didn't want to limit it."

The two-story building will include an office for the pastor. The first floor will be composed of a community room with tables and seating for around 40 people, along with a kitchen.

The church purchased the building from a retired Catholic priest, who lived in the old fire hall for years before moving to a retirement home.

"He was pretty much a collector. He filled it top to bottom with … things of interest to him," O'Brian said.

It took more than a year for church members to clean out the building. They conducted a large garage sale to get rid of items, including everything from antique stoves to tree stumps.

The members already had started the remodeling process when they were told they would have to acquire a building permit and approval for the work.

"We thought 'This is Lawrence, we'll just do it.' But no, we had to go to the township, the state," he said, laughing.

To date, the church has spent about $44,000 on the acquisition of the building, architectural costs and materials.

O'Brian said he does not know when work will be finished.

"It's funny when people ask us our time schedule," O'Brian said. "It's every Saturday, anyday we can get in here."

Rod Kemerer, a church elder, said church members hope for construction to finish and programming start next fall.

"It's a pay as you go and work as you go," he said. "We watch every dollar we spend. We'll envision this as we go."

Doverspike estimated the total cost of developing the center will be about $50,000.

Matich's son-in-law, Ron Rodgers, of Lighthouse Electric has provided electrical fixtures for free.

Another member who works for a commercial kitchen outfitter may be able to provide kitchen equipment at reduced cost.

"We've trusted in the Lord to provide," O'Brian said. "And he has."

Kim Lawrence contributed to this report.

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