Fifty-five people, ranging in age from 6 months to 91 years, can say they were part of history.
In early January, members of Surprise Christian Church and some of their friends gathered outside the rural Jackson County church for the groundbreaking of a new fellowship hall.
During the first week of February, the foundation was set and poured. A week later, the walls went up. And this week, workers have been placing the roof.
After 13 years of saving money, planning and praying, the first construction on the church since 1963 is taking shape.
The building will cost about $120,000, and close to half of that has been raised.
Now that it is being built, Pastor Rick Grant said he hopes the congregation will come through with the remaining money.
“When people see things going up, the money comes out of the pocket,” he said. “If there’s nothing going on, ‘Well, for 13 years, you said you were going to build it.’ Well, now they believe it. Believing is seeing for some folks. We’re faith-based, but still, they want to see evidence that there’s something happening.”
Grant said people have expressed interest in donating, and the church will borrow money if needed to pay for the new 2,600-square-foot building.
Currently, church gatherings and events are conducted in the basement. But some people aren’t able to go down the steep steps to the basement, forcing people to gather in separate locations in the church.
Since he became the church’s full-time minister in January 2015, Grant has wanted to see construction begin on the fellowship hall, he said.
“Some of (the church members) were getting older, and I just encouraged them when I came, I said, ‘Let’s get moving because if you’re going to live long enough to see it, we need to do it now,’” he said.
“Any time you build something, it creates a lot of interest, especially in a small community,” he said. “As you look forward, it’s a matter of vision. Without vision, people perish. Without vision, people do nothing. So the time had come.”
The new building, being constructed by Daviess County Metal Sales, will hold about 100 people and can be used by the congregation and other people in the community. It will include a large fellowship area, two restrooms, a kitchen, a storage area and a mechanical room.
“That building will give us twice the amount of floor space that we’ve got here on the ground level,” Grant said. “It would allow our families a bigger place and space that’s convenient to get all ages in should they want to use it. We’re trying to be more engaging with the community.”
A parking lot and a multipurpose ball field also will be added on the church property.
Grant said he hopes to someday remodel the church’s basement to use either as a nursery, a youth area or for more classroom space.
When the church was founded in 1893, members met in a schoolhouse on the top of a hill along State Road 258, 10 miles west of Seymour.
In 1902, a church was built along North County Road 100W. Construction was necessary in 1963 when the building was damaged by a storm.
“That’s the last new construction that this building has seen until this, so does that tell you how big this building project is?” Grant said. “That’s a number of years before anything has changed. Now, to see new life and new people — 14 new members in the last year, and the attendance has gone up — I think it’s because God has said, ‘Let’s do it in Surprise.’”
The growth in membership is one reason a new fellowship hall was needed. An average of 60 people attend Sunday services.
In 2015, a baptistery was added at the church, and the money to cover that project was raised in two weeks. That gave Grant confidence the congregation could come together to make the fellowship hall happen.
“When things are going on, it’s where people want to be, and I think it’s contagious,” he said. “In many situations, churches are going the wrong way. This one’s not. Because they have this enthusiasm, when people come, they catch it, and then they want to come back.”
Grant said it’s neat how everything has come full circle for him because he grew up near the rural church and attended Bible school there.
After graduating from Seymour High School, he went to Indiana University with plans to become an accountant until he felt the call to go into ministry.
He transferred to Asbury University in Kentucky and earned a bachelor’s degree and then received his master of divinity. He spent nine years in ministry in Kentucky before working at car dealerships for 15 years, including having his own business in Brownstown for 10 years.
Grant then served as senior minister at First Christian Church in Vincennes for seven years and associate minister at Central Christian Church in Seymour for four years. He started preaching part time at Surprise in the fall of 2014 before taking on a full-time role in January 2015.
“The small church is attractive to people these days,” he said. “For many people growing up, they first began in a small church. Even when I was pastor of large churches, you had a lot of little churches in the big church because you can only associate with so many people. That atmosphere is welcoming.”
Grant said the core members of his church live within two miles. But there are some who travel from surrounding communities.
“Newcomers are always welcome here,” he said. “As a matter of fact, we expect somebody new every Sunday. That’s the way it ought to be.”
Louis Fleetwood has attended Surprise Christian Church all of his life. He and his wife, Dorothy, live just down the road from the church.
Dorothy Fleetwood grew up attending a Lutheran church in Seymour before joining Surprise Christian Church when she married Louis.
“I’ve always liked the folks. They are just kind,” she said.
Louis Fleetwood said membership has fluctuated over the years, but he credits Grant for keeping it steady since he became minister.
“It has worked out well for him as for us,” Fleetwood said. “It has been a blessing that we were able to hire him, and he has been an inspiration to getting our attendance built up to where it is today.”
Louis Fleetwood said he has noticed more people living in the area and choosing Surprise Christian Church as their place of worship.
“People are building homes in the area and coming back, and we’re hoping to draw people in,” he said. “There are more homes now being built than there has been probably in 20 or 30 years.”
The church is a special place for the Fleetwoods since their youngest son was married there and Dorothy was the organist and pianist for 40 years.
Louis Fleetwood said he and his wife have contributed money to the fellowship hall project since Day 1, and they are happy to see the walls going up.
“It’s going to increase our attendance,” he said. “When Rick came, we were down to 35, and we’re almost pushing 70 right now. We see the expansion just slowly moving forward, and when the new building is completed, probably in the summer, I think it will bring even more people into our church.”
Surprise Christian Church is at 6382 N. County Road 100W.
Sunday services include Sunday school at 9:30 a.m. and worship at 10:30 a.m.
For information, contact Pastor Rick Grant at 812-216-4180 or “like” Surprise Christian Church on Facebook.
Those present for the fellowship hall groundbreaking Jan. 3 at Surprise Christian Church include:
Dorothy Fleetwood, Mike Hollin, Shirley Reichenbacker, Neva Reedy, Louis Fleetwood, Doris Harvey, Donna Heiman, Kaycee Reichenbacker, Lyza Reichenbacker, Bret Reichenbacker, Lena Gay, Pam Thompson, Kim Boknecht, Macy Boknecht, Phil Boknecht, Ann O’Neal, Chuck O’Neal, Joyce Reichenbacker, Roger Reichenbacker, John Eidman, Tanya Eidman, Monte Thompson, Dax Morris, Matt Morris, Cally Morris, Ed Flynn, Katie King, John Gay, Julie King, Seirra Nobbe, Jami Nobbe, Wendy Nobbe, Dianna Wells, Ellis Wells, Margaret Kroman, Carl Hyde, Doris Hyde, Amelia Gay, Mendy Gay, John Gay Jr., Isaiah Gay, Elijah Gay, Helen McIntosh, Larry McIntosh, Tonya Fee, Peggy Gay, Donna Starr, Mikayla Fee, Anthony Rork, Pam Grant, Pastor Rick Grant, Randy Ent, Denny Boknecht, Martha Boknecht and Ava Thompson.