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Calvary Baptist Church - Yankton, South Dakota (SD)
By: Jennifer Walker-Journey

Since 1947, Calvary Baptist Church in Yankton, South Dakota, has been committed to connecting Christians with other Christians in order for them to "work together to share the good news of salvation in Jesus Christ with our community, nation, and world." That mission statement, printed on the church's Web site, would have new meaning when leadership began discussing how to handle its growing membership.

Calvary Baptist had been on the same property since 1973. And, while there was room to expand, studies showed drainage issues and traffic congestion "would create a trial for our neighbors," said Senior Pastor Jon Cooke. It was best to relocate.

However, finding another church building or property on which to build was proving to be an exhausting task. But, time after time, church leadership kept coming back to one location – an old Walmart store that had been vacant for three years. It offered massive space, plenty of parking, and a prime location right on the main street of town.

Perhaps it offered too much space. Or maybe the idea of renovating a Walmart store was just a little too crazy to embrace. The group kept turning away from the old discount store, only to be led back again and again.

"God just kept bring it back to us," said Pastor Cooke. So, Calvary Baptist finally acted and purchased the 93,000-square-foot building. Next came the fun part.

There would be much work to do to develop plans and renovate the building, but church leadership didn't have to look far for help. Hundreds of members volunteered their time and talent to the project. An architect agreed to help design the plan, utilizing only a portion of the space and saving the rest for storage and future growth. He also provided design elements in the plan that would make the church look more like a place of worship.

The renovation included a 700-seat sanctuary with two large screens and a 3,300-square-foot platform, a 150-seat chapel, café area, two kitchens, a 1,700-square-foot library with a fireplace, a game loft for youth (which was the manager's office in its former life), a huge reception area, and an office complex with six offices, two conference rooms, and four classrooms. The plans also included a 3,000-square-foot fellowship hall that would be partially finished.

With the plans complete, the church began moving forward on building it. One member had a background as a residential builder. He offered to go back to school and learn about building commercial projects so that he could play a vital role in the renovation of the church. Another member had access to heavy equipment and arranged the rental of those products. And even more members lent their skills to paint, wire, and clean in order to help out in any way possible.

There were little miracles along the way, as well. Support beams were positioned every 30 to 40 feet apart in the massive warehouse-style structure, which would create an obstruction in the sanctuary. Removing them was not an option, but some contractors offered to help. They developed an I-beam that would solve the problem in a most cost-effective way.

Church volunteers also removed the wood studs that were used in the Walmart pharmacy area, pulled the nails out of each one, and reclaimed them for backing throughout the building. Ceiling tiles were also reused in other areas.

The final touches of the building would be the interior design. Making the discount store look less like a warehouse was achieved through curved walls and carpet that guides guest through the facility.

"It's what one guy in our church calls the eye candy," Pastor Cooke joked.

Some members who couldn't help with the building project offered other types of services. Everyone, it seemed, helped out any way possible. And, the rewards were greater than anyone could have expected.

"We were able to save a lot of money," Cooke said. "But, what it brought to our church was a lot of unity in the ownership in the ultimate product. People got to know each other better. It just shows the kind of people we have here."

The renovation of Calvary Baptist was completed in October 2008. More than 1,200 people from the community came out to the grand opening.

In what Pastor Cooke calls another blessing, on the same day, three other churches changed hands – a church bought Calvary Baptist's old building, another church bought that church's old building, and so on.

"God just orchestrated all this out," he said.

Since moving into its new building, the church has experienced much growth.

"Forty babies have been born here in the last year and a half," Pastor Cooke said.

However, the best gift is what the church now has: a beautiful new building that serves their needs and a congregation made stronger by working together to see the project to fruition.

"What a blessing that we had volunteer labor," Pastor Cooke said. "It is beyond words when I think back on how it all came together."

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