I still can’t believe what unfolded before my eyes…!
For many years, the members of Bethel Lutheran Church in Latrobe, Pennsylvania had been talking about updating their building to provide a gathering-place, restrooms on the same level as their worship space, and an improved kitchen to support the Meals-on-Wheels program that had been operating out of their church basement for several decades. But the dream always seemed to be a bit out-of-reach until faith created action.
Harry and John, two long-time pillars of the congregation, began to talk with each other about how the project could be completed and about how it could be financed. The church didn’t have a lot of financial resources, but it had a wide variety of men and women who could always work as a team. Carpenters. Electricians. Plumbers. Bakers. Cooks. Laborers. As St. Paul once wrote: “the body does not consist of one member but of many” and “you are the body of Christ and individually members of it.” (1 Corinthians 12:14, 27) And so, in faith, Harry and John and all of the members of a little church in the mountains decided that it was time to take the plunge. The only stipulation that was clearly made was that the congregation would not borrow any money to complete the project.
Shawn Ulrey, a local architect, created a design for the addition that was quickly approved by members of the congregation. And because the estimated cost of the project was more than $350,000 dollars, people needed to get to work, right away. Jo, Pat and Peggy mobilized the bakers and the cooks; and, soon, hundreds of dozens of Christmas cookies were flying out of the homes of women in the church, while Thelma and Dora prepared hot meals for volunteers. Funds slowly began to trickle-in. And that’s when I saw what was truly amazing – almost unbelievable – begin to happen!
It all started with a single oak tree….
Harry and John and a group of strong men from the congregation dropped an oak tree that had been donated by a former member of the church; and they transported the tree back into the mountains – where it was cut into pieces, sawed into boards, kiln-dried in an oven that was owned by yet another member of the church, and stacked into piles for later use. Members of the congregation began to donate poplar trees that were cut into 2x4s that were used for the framing. The carpenters began to cut and saw and shape the wood while the plumbers laid pipes. The electricians pulled wires while the bakers and the cooks continued to work tirelessly. Day-by-day the Lord provided the financial resources that were needed to buy supplies. Harry volunteered to be the contractor who would oversee the entire project to save money (even though he had never done anything like that). Harry quickly learned what he needed to do to get the permits that were required and to schedule the necessary inspections.
And the project was transformed from a hole in the ground into a roughed-in kitchen with an upper floor that was under-roof. Men in the congregation worked into the wee hours of the morning putting-up drywall, running wires, smoothing drywall seams and soldering pipes. At one point, I remember teasing Harry about the fact that he needed to move a bed into the church. He just smiled.
I’ve always believed that God will provide whatever gifts are needed the most when those gifts are needed the most by the Church.
Harry and John were joined by Rod and Jerry and Colton and Larry and Skip and Connie and Thelma and Pat and Peggy and Marcie and Jo. The women of the church baked cookies by the thousands. Faithful workers in the church volunteered to serve dinners and to work at a booth during Fort Ligonier Days. People contributed generously of their time and treasure. When the ladies of the church heard that the kitchen appliances were going to cost nearly $100,000 – they worked even harder while the men continued to pull wire, transform the oak boards that they had fashioned into door trim and window moldings and wainscot, set windows in their places and create oak kitchen cabinets from scratch. The words ““you are the body of Christ and individually members of it” (1 Corinthians 12:27) echoed in my ears as the workers worked and as the fund-raisers raised the needed funds.
In a little bit more than two years, the project was complete and Bethel Lutheran Church did not borrow one penny to finance their new addition! The day that we dedicated the new addition was a glorious day to celebrate what God’s people can do when they freely share their gifts and embrace a dream that seems to be impossible. It was a day to remember the importance of prayers, trees and spiritual gifts.
I still remember the look on the architect’s face during the dedication of the new addition, but I even more clearly remember the expression on his face when I told the faithful people at Bethel that it was time to test the engineering. I counted to three as the architect stared in disbelief. And then, when I got to “three,” the more than 120 people who had gathered for the dedication jumped into the air and landed with one, mighty thump on the floor. Our new addition passed the test and continues to stand as a clear sign of what God’s people can do when they work together as a team and share the gifts of time and money that God has so freely given to them.