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Same Grace, new place

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The former Eastside Baptist Church sanctuary has been renovated just in time for the first service by Grace Church on Sunday.
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Grace Church member Tim Day removes lettering from the former Eastside Baptist Church building as Grace Church prepares to move in for its first service Sunday at 637 McCann St.
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By DARRELL SMITH - dsmith@newsexaminer.com

A former church building in the morning shadow of Eastview School will re-open on Palm Sunday as Grace Church, after long hours of work by volunteers from the congregation.

Grace Church is renting the facility at 637 McCann St. from Tom and Sue Ripberger, who purchased the building and land from Eastview Baptist Church when the congregation decided to stop meeting.

Money from the sale of the property went to three charities the congregation had supported in the past so no one from the congregation profited.

The Ripbergers, operating as TASS Property Management, live and own property in the area. They called the facility the Community Bridge to Hope Center. Recovery support groups have been meeting downstairs.

The building dates from the late 1950s or early 1960s and had not been used for worship for about two years, Grace Pastor Tim Billups said.

Grace Church met for the first time the first Sunday of 2017 in the James Roberts Memorial Building in Roberts Park, continuing there until the final service April 7.

The congregation looked at purchasing the building in the fall of 2018 but both sides decided the time was not right, he said.

Tom Ripberger contacted Grace Church early this year and indicated they would be interested in renting, he said. The leadership team discussed it and met with the Ripbergers to discuss the renovations they wanted to make.

“While it is a dated facility, the facility is very clean, so we’re grateful for that, but we wanted to modernize things a little bit,” he explained. “We wanted a handicapped accessible restroom upstairs versus downstairs, open up the platform to be an open concept and with the pallet wall. He agreed, so it became ours.”

Member Tim Day recalled growing up in a Harrisburg church. He came to Eastside Baptist Church for his baptism because that church did not have a baptismal. 

There are about 170 seats in the sanctuary.

“These seats are actually theater seats out of movie theater in Muncie,” Day said. “They’ve been here a long time and I heard someone say they have been recovered once.”

Eric Frame did much of the wordworking on the platform, he said.

A wheelchair ramp will be installed in the future, likely through the back door, Frame said.

Work began on the renovation in late March with the goal of having the first service there on April 14, Palm Sunday.

The congregation has ressure washed, removed old carpet, torn out the old altar, put up new curtains, built a new media center, installed a projector, laid carpet, painted, and built an accessible restroom.

When Eastside Baptist ceased meeting, they left plates, Sunday School materials and even the communion cups they used that last Sunday, Frame said.

The church has been grateful for the opportunity to rent the Roberts Building, members had to set up, tear down and then store their equipment each Sunday, Billups said. With their own building, that is no longer required.

“Whether it’s real or not, it can give the perception that you’re just a group of people meeting in the park,” he said. “Having a facility that is our own church building gives us stability and increases our level of credibility within the community that we’re here to stay ... and we are.”

Currently, the congregation meets in small groups on Thursday nights and that will continue, he said. It would be nice to increase the number of those groups. 

“The (Eastside) church did a lot of good for the cause of Christ but in the Bible it talks about a day of rest during creation (Genesis 1) and giving your land a rest every seven years so it could come back strong (Leviticus 25),” he said. “Perhaps that’s what God did with this facility, He gave it a time of rest but it can be refreshed and come back strong. It’s just a building, but ministry is all about people and maybe that’s what is going on here. I’m not sure, but we’re all excited about it. God opened the door for us and we’re running through it.”