A steeple sits atop what will soon be the new home of Fellowship Baptist Church. According to Pastor Bill Prater, services should begin in the new building in early 2011.
By ROBERT PIERCE
The former Food Bonanza building near the intersection of Pancake and Clay in Liberal will soon once again be occupied – this time with food for the spirit.
Framing work began inside the building in April for the new home of Fellowship Baptist Church, and Pastor Bill Prater said work on the building has been done with the help of two ministries, without which he said none of the work would have been possible.
The first ministry is Cornerstone Baptist Builders of Oklahoma City, led by Tom LaSalle which Prater said has been very instrumental in heading up the project and pointing it in the right direction.
The other ministry Prater credits with assisting the building project is Crossroads Church Services of Dumas, Texas, overseen by Jerome Price.
The pastor said he honestly believes without those ministries, the project would not be where it is today, and he also praised the work of the men of Fellowship Baptist.
“Our men have been an incredible help,” he said. “They’ve sacrificed their Tuesday nights and their Saturdays ever since April. We’ll have anywhere from 20 to 35 men from probably age 13 and up in here cleaning up and hanging sheet rock and doing whatever they can to pitch in and make this thing a reality.”
Prater said the men of Fellowship Baptist have bought into the project’s vision, and they see what can be done.
“They believe in it,” he said. “They’re putting their time, their effort and their energy realizing that they’re investing in their lives. They’re also investing in the future lives of thousands of members of Fellowship Baptist Church in the future. They’re going to be able to look back, and this is going to be part of their legacy for the future. I was a part of this from the ground up, and it’s going to be very important to them.”
One of the features of the new church is a platform area which Prater said is considerably larger than the one at the church’s present location at 216 W. Wilson.
“That is largely due to our Liberty production every year and also some other musical productions that we do throughout the year,” he said. “That’s going to greatly enhance our ability to present those kinds of programs.”
The sanctuary will likewise contain a state of the art sound and lighting system, and another section of the church will be home to Kidz Town, its children’s wing.
“Every room is themed, and it’s really going to be a fun place for the kids to be and just to have a great time,” Prater said. “It’s really going to enhance, we believe, the learning process, and it’s going to be a place where parents feel comfortable and secure in placing their children.”
Prater said nurseries in the new church will have surveillance, and they will provide a safe and secure environment.
“They’re much larger than our current nurseries, which is very important,” he said.
The building also allows the church to house its Bread of Life food ministry that feeds anywhere from 100 to 225 families in a given month.
“We’ve got an area designated specifically for that,” Prater said.
One feature the pastor is quite proud of on the new church sits atop the building – a steeple.
“It may not have meant much to too many folks, but to us, it was a milestone,” he said. “We’ve never had a steeple, and that was one thing we were really, really looking forward to. One of our staff members put together a video documenting the assembly and the erection of the steeple. We used it to really celebrate the moment. We had a steeple lighting service on Sunday (Aug. 29).”
Prater said the church is expected to be open by early 2011.
“We had set a little more lofty goal at the end of September,” he said. “Obviously, that’s not going to transpire, but we do feel certain that by the end of year, we will have it occupied.”
A family life center is nearing the end of construction next door to the church’s main building, and Prater estimated with that facility, the church will have an additional 25,000 square feet of space in comparison to its present location.
“This facility, our worship center, is 70,000 square feet,” he said. “Our new family life center is somewhere in the neighborhood of 11,000 square feet.”
As for what is soon to be Fellowship Baptist’s former home, Prater said the church is in the process of selling those properties.
“We have some folks that are interested in them now,” he said. “We’re talking with them, and hopefully, we’ll be able to sell those properties.”
The church itself started in November 1955 at 217 W. Wilson – near its current location – in a small white house that Prater said still stands.
“It was owned by the Jackson family, and the church started meeting in that home,” he said. “They were formally organized in November of 1955. Our current worship center was built in 1984 under the direction of Pastor L.K. Landess. The church has gone through several building programs through the years, the most recent, excluding this one, was 1984.”
Soon to be residing in what was a grocery store, Prater said church officials now hope the new home of Fellowship Baptist will be unrecognizable as a commercial building and that people can see it for what it will soon become – a worship facility.
“We’re very proud of it,” he said. “I can’t even begin to tell you how many folks have commented on the transformation of this building and how it’s enhanced this area. That is really what we wanted to do.”
Prater said the church is presently experiencing steady growth.
“We’re just at a point now where we want to be more effective,” he said. “We had to expand the facilities. Our children and student ministries are just top notch. Children’s ministries are headed up by our children’s pastor, Andrew Linder. Our youth ministries are headed up by my son, Tyler Prater. He’s been with us four years, and we’ve just seen incredible growth since he’s taken over the helm.”
Prater said one of the most pleasing areas of growth in the church has been in the area of college ministries.
“We had never really been able to get a college ministry off the ground in spite of the fact that we’ve got a junior college here until John Vaught came,” he said. “John has been with us right at two years now, and they run around 30 right now in the college ministry.”
Prater said the prospects of growth in the college ministries sector is unlimited.
“(Vaught) does a tremendous job of connecting with the college kids,” he said. “This facility combined with a full-size gymnasium helps to reach kids of that age. We’re hoping to be able with these facilities to reach out in greater ways to the community and have more events and more gatherings for our community, provide some meeting rooms if those are needed.”