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New Ebenezer dedicates new sanctuary

A new sanctuary.

A new beginning.

A New Ebenezer Baptist Church.

Over 300 people attended Sunday's special dedication ceremony as Pastor William Leverette and the 'little church that could' opened its doors to those in the Highland Home and Crenshaw County community for the first time.

"The Lord has been with us," said Leverette of the building project that took just seven months to complete. "I know he has something special planned for this church and these people."

The new sanctuary was a necessity, said Leverette. Attendance at New Ebenezer had increased significantly in recent years, he said, and there was no room for growth in the building that housed his congregation since 1966. The old sanctuary could hold, at best, 100 worshippers. The new building can hold three times that, as was evidenced by Sunday's turnout.

74-year-old Grady Cauthen has been coming to New Ebenezer his entire life. Church records, he said, indicate that New Ebenezer was organized in 1855. The original church, said Cauthen, was your typical old, country church with high ceilings and wood burning heaters. He said when the former sanctuary was completed in the 60s, the first service held there was his father's funeral.

"I'm really thrilled," Cauthen said of the new sanctuary. "This is a beautiful place and we thank the good Lord for it."

Mitch Dempsey, chairman of the church's building committee, said the original plan was to expand on the older building. But the cost to add a few additional pews would have been almost $100,000.

"I couldn't in good faith go to the church and ask for that much money and then do so little with it," said Dempsey. "That was when we decided to draft some plans for a new sanctuary. We had the faith of a mustard seed."

Dempsey said the plan was to save money and build the new sanctuary, as funds were made available. But after the church had saved and spent $80,000 it was decided the church would borrow the money to finish the project. Dempsey shopped around for loans at area financial institutions but the interest rates offered would have made the monthly payments unaffordable. However, he did find help from the Baptist Foundation of Alabama. Although he was told the foundation usually only dealt in small loans for small projects, a patron had actually just left money to the foundation for the specific reason that Dempsey was calling about - to build a church.

Another stroke of good fortune?

The Carpenters for Christ had nowhere to go.

Founded by Dick Byers, a member of Eastmont Baptist Church (Montgomery), in 1987, this association and its members use vacation time to travel during the summer months and help churches with building projects. 52 Carpenters from as far away as Arkansas and Missouri came to New Ebenezer and helped build the new sanctuary.

"Usually, their schedule is backed-up with churches wanting them to come and help build," said Dempsey. "It just so happens that they were free this year."

New Ebenezer member Clay Crum worked with the Carpenters during their two-week stay in the area and he and his wife were saved in that same time period.

"Everyday with them (the Carpenters) was like a revival," Crum recalled. "You could definitely feel the presence of the Lord while they were here."

Byers, along with over 30 of the Carpenters who helped build the new sanctuary, attended on Sunday.

"We're just a bunch of men who volunteer to serve the Lord," Byers told the crowd. "It doesn't require any talents or special abilities. You just have to make yourself available."

The community rallied around the project as well. Local businesses and fellow churches helped feed the Carpenters and individuals volunteered their services without any desire for compensation, said Dempsey.

Crum compared the event to a 'modern-day miracle.'

"This is a tremendous blessing from God," he said. "All of the neighboring churches have come together to help us do this. The Lord provided. For a country church our size to have something this beautiful is truly amazing."

Fellow member Mike Dunn said the new church would be a 'light in the community.'

"I think people in this area are just going to be drawn to the new sanctuary," he said.