Church celebrates Holy Week before move
Around the world, Christians are celebrating the resurrection of their Lord.
For congregants at First Assembly of God Church, Easter also comes not just with reassurance of their faith in God, but also reassurance that their new home will be a worthy place to celebrate it.
The First Assembly of God is celebrating its final Easter in a facility the church has called home for 81 years.
“We’ve got mixed feelings about leaving the building because we’ve been here so many years,” longtime member J.D. Lunsford said. “We’ve seen some really great Easter programs over the years. We’ve had a lot of cantatas. We’ve had some great times. It’s a special time to me. This is the time we celebrate the resurrection of our Lord and Savior.”
First Assembly will have its last service at 402 Grand Ave. next Sunday and host a ribbon-cutting ceremony immediately afterward at its new home, 2066 U.S. Highway 6&50, east of Fruita. The first service at the new facility takes place April 18.
First Assembly won’t have a cantata or any kind of production for Easter this year, but there’s no doubt this year’s Easter service will be special.
“I might add Pastor Ted (Miller) has done a fantastic job of getting us to this point,” said First Assembly secretary and church member Sharon Schultz. “When we first got started, people were anxious. He’s put a lot of excitement and work into letting go of the past and excitement into the future. I haven’t received any phone calls for a long time, ‘Oh, we’re going to leave.’ It’s kind of tough. We have a lot of memories, but we’re looking forward to the future.”
‘Heart of progress’
The church started in 1926 on the corner of Second Street and White Avenue and built at its current location in 1929.
That building was demolished and rebuilt in 1950. In 1956, an addition was made, and in 1965 the red-brick auditorium was built. It is 65,000 square feet.
Through the years, homes on the same block were purchased and demolished to build a parking lot.
As the sanctuary began to fill over time, the church added a second service, and talk began about buying some land and building a new facility.
Church membership is about 400 people, but there were 1,100 people who attend the two Sunday morning services last weekend, Miller said. There are five pastors on staff.
“This started back when Clarence Cope was the pastor,” Lunsford said of plans for a new church. “We decided to acquire some land to build a new facility. We put a large amount of money down where Canyon View Vineyard is now. During the transition, Pastor Cope resigned, and it wasn’t in the new pastor’s vision. People got disgruntled, so we let the land go. We picked up the vision again when David Crowley was our pastor. When Phil Neely took over, we started pursuing it.”
Land was purchased seven years ago along U.S. 6&50 near Fruita.
In addition to building a new facility, the church had a duplex built to house two members of the pastoral staff and their families.
“When I got here, I was told we’re prepared for moving,” said Miller, who took the job three years ago. The design and planning process took two years, Miller said.
All three cornerstones from the existing buildings will be placed as part of the entryway at the new church site. The new church is 83,000 square feet.
“This church has always had a heart of progress of wanting to grow and reach people,” Miller said. “The church was much ahead of its time. It’s not uncommon for churches to do multiple services. There’s been a sense of progress and moving forward. We want to reach as many people as we can.”
‘90 percent goes further than 100’
Schultz, 70, joined the church in 1967 and was hired in 1969.
“It’s been 40 years, and I wouldn’t trade it for nothing,” Schultz said. “I love to encourage people, help people. I just love people. This church is known for a place of hope. We want to give people hope.”
Lunsford, 71, grew up in a Pentecostal church in the Grand Valley, but he joined First Assembly 50 years ago at the urging of his mother.
“I gave my heart to the Lord in 1962 right here (in the pastor’s office); the sanctuary used to be right here,” Lunsford said. “When Pastor Kenny Schmidt preached that morning on tithing, he said, ‘You may sit and think I won’t give (your money) to this minister or the church, but you’ll give it to somebody. By the time he got through the message, I took my wallet out and threw it on the altar and said, ‘Lord, as of today, I will give you 100 percent of J.D. and pay 10 percent to you.’
“I told my wife what happened. She laughed at me and said, ‘We can’t even pay our bills. How are we going to do that?’ I said, ‘I don’t know, but my mother has always told me 90 percent goes further than 100.’ I can’t tell you how we did it, but we’ve always paid our bills on time.”
Lunsford has volunteered in the men’s ministry group and as an usher and served on the church board for several years. He also has spoken to other churches about the success and growth of First Assembly.
“I was asked one time if I would speak at a Nazarene church (about) why we were successful, and I would say, ‘Because we are a mission church,’ ” Lunsford said. “I believe that with all my heart that’s why God blesses us, because we are a mission church. Some of the greatest times I’ve had were on mission projects and did mission work. We spent two weeks in Belize in 1982 building a church.”
First Assembly of God supports 87 missionaries around the world and locally, Miller said.