Nine years ago, members of Chestatee Baptist Church cast their ballots to consider building a new church on their property off Chestatee Road. And finally on Feb. 1, the congregation met in its new facility for the first time. The added bonus was the church did not borrow any money to pay for its new building. In fact, several church members said they felt “blessed” for building the church without having to take out a loan and go into debt.
However, building the church with available funds had its drawbacks. The church was a little shy of money to finish its basement. To cover the cost of completing the work, church leaders resorted to a fundraising staple and favorite - a barbecue lunch and dinner.
“We started the barbecue last March, because we were trying to raise money for our church,” Chestatee Baptist Church member Chastity Voiles said, noting the event garnered $12,000 last year. “It was our first fundraiser we had earned a lot of money at … so this is something that we decided to do annually.”
On March 14, church members held their second annual barbecue. The church sold 600 plates of food and 57 whole Boston butts, raising $7,053 to go toward completing the basement. Volunteers worked throughout the day, offering lunch and dinner plates for $7 and a cup of Brunswick stew for $1.
“We’ve done really well with events like this,” church member Jason Daniell said. “We’ve done car shows (and) just general fundraising events, but there’s been a lot of $50 donations that have made this what it is.”
Raising money through community fundraisers is nothing new for Chestatee Baptist. In fact, the congregation footed the bill of a new facility with various events ranging from fundraisers and car shows to other church activities.
When the church broke ground in 2012, it had less than $10,000 in the building fund. Early construction estimates put the cost of a new building close to $500,000. Eventually, the church raised $325,000.
“God knew what he wanted, we didn’t,” ” Chestatee Baptist pastor David Skinner said.
Apparently God’s plan was to replace the original church, which was built in 1897 and rotting from the inside out. The congregation adhered to the Almighty’s plan and devised a way to build a new church for the growing congregation.
“When this thing first started, the young people were the ones (who) stepped out in faith and started with little old brownie jars,” Skinner said. “One thing transpired into another and the church just fell in. Every step that we’ve made, the Lord’s been ahead of us, providing every single thing that we needed.”
And the church needed money to build a facility to house its growing congregation. The new church is twice as big as the previous one. Plus, the basement has rooms for Sunday school classes, which the church hopes to use for a vacation Bible school this summer.
The church also updated the plumbing and electricity, including new light and water fixtures.
And every step of the way, people have donated their service, money, time and supplies to finish the new building. Community members and the congregation donated gutters, a piano, an organ and a barbecue grill.
Chestatee Baptist Church deacon Arlen Pirkle said other churches also helped make the dream become a reality.
“The pews came from a church in Gwinnett County,” said Pirkle, a member since 1968. “They didn’t use their old church anymore and they still had their old pews. They wanted to get rid of them.”
Chestatee Baptist humbly accepted the donation. Upon arrival at the church, at least one member saw it was — yet again — part of God’s plan.
“We needed exactly x amount of pews and they needed to be this length,” Daniell said. “We go down there and it’s exactly what we needed to the inch.”
The assistance to the church continued Saturday afternoon and evening as several local businesses placed large orders. Voiles, who helped organize the barbecue, estimated 85 percent of the crowd were not part of the church community. The outpouring of support was just one example of a favorite saying, “You can’t outgive God.”
“It isn’t just about the building, there’s a need,” Pirkle said. “When this church was established in 1874, there was a need in this community. The Lord knows there’s still a need here now, the spirit’s here every service.”
Four-year member Dianna Gable of Clermont sees the spirit moving people, literally. She said everyone tends to sit as close to the front as possible in the new church. In the old building, people tended to sit in the back.
But some things remain the same.
“One thing that hasn’t changed is the spirit, that’s kind of our theme is that same spirit,” Gable said. “There’s a song in the hymnal that we like to sing, and that’s one thing that has truly not changed,” said Gable.
“The building isn’t the spirit,” he said. “It isn’t the church. It’s the people and his love and our heart is the church and he has not failed to bless us, even out here stirring Brunswick stew.”