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Counting their blessings

This Thanksgiving, Bethany Baptist Church is counting its blessings. One million, three hundred thousand of them, to be exact.

Earlier this week, the church raised enough money to complete payments on a $1.3 million loan that was used to build its new sanctuary building. The loan was first taken out in 2002.

“When we started in 2008, we still owed in excess of $100,000 on the building,” said Jeff Grimes, chairman of deacons at Bethany Baptist Church. “Through some generous donations and people being faithful in their giving, we were able to make a final push and get it paid off.”

Ronald Davis, who has served as interim pastor at the church since September, said the congregation raised a little more than $35,000 at its Sunday service, more than paying off the $20,000 still left on the bank note.

“It’s been a real struggle for some of our members,” Davis said. “They’ve had to give not only their tithes, but also an offering to help pay for the building. But the people have worked really hard and have sacrificed and it’s great relief to know that $1.3 million is off the books.

“It’s like I told them on Sunday, ‘In 2009, we’re gonna be debt free, and feelin’ mighty fine.’”

The new sanctuary building has been in use for the past six years, while the church paid off the loan. It is the culmination of a large-scale building project that has been under way since the early 1990s.

“We started out in the initial sanctuary building that had been built in the 1940s,” Grimes said. “Then, in the early 1990s we added onto that sanctuary and we built a new fellowship building. We moved our worship services out into that building, to convert the old sanctuary building into educational space.

“And then, while we were in the fellowship hall, we started the construction of this new sanctuary.”

Grimes said most of the fund-raising for the project came from church members, although some non-members also provided donations, although he was unsure of any amounts because most gifts were given anonymously. He added that the church had several campaigns to help raise the funds, including a special program called “Challenge to Build.”

“This is a three-year giving programs where you challenge your church members to help,” he said. “The slogan in this program is ‘equal sacrifice,’ not equal gift, but equal sacrifice. We know that for some people giving $100 is a real sacrifice, but it’s easier for others. We just asked that each member help out any way they could.”

In the near future, the church plans to hold a symbolic “note burning” ceremony to signify the paying off of the loan.

“We’re probably going to do that over the next few days,” said Davis, who was pastor at Bethany Baptist Church from 1977-1986 before moving to Coffee County until his retirement in 1991. “We’re still not sure yet. It’s funny, because I was pastor here 30 years ago when they had their first debt to pay off, and here I am again for this second one.

“We didn’t really plan for it to be paid off by Thanksgiving, but it’s nice that it turned out that way. It couldn’t have come at a better time and we’re very thankful for it.”

The church, in addition to searching for a permanent pastor, is also in need of a full-time minister of music and a minister of youth. But right now, the congregation is counting its blessings to have a major burden lifted off its shoulders.

“We have wonderful new facilities that can accommodate close to 700 people,” Grimes said. “We’re at that point now where we just need to be doing what God wants us to do, and that’s about reaching the people of this community.”