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By MARTHA SMITH
Special to the Standard
EXETER â The motto of the Beacon Free Will Baptist Church whose future home â a large and impressive structure now under construction on Route 2 â could easily be âIf you build it, they will come.â
When completed, the project will represent an investment of approximately $1 million including $300,000 for the land and $700,000 for the building. Town fire officials are also requiring the church to install a 20,000 gallon cistern at an additional cost of $30,000.
The town has agreed to waive a building fee of $7,104.
âWeâre very grateful,â says Pastor Reynolds. âThe town has been very good to us and treated us very well.â
The property the church will occupy is in what the locals are calling âthe Villageâ â a prospective development that, if it attracts a developer â would bring shops and housing to a cluster environment. It is the result of the Borderlands study which created an advisory plan for future development.
Beacon church was designed by Colorado architect Steven Hunt, a friend of Pastor Bill Reynolds; the foundation was poured by Pro Construction and Dave Vallee, a master carpenter, is the contractor.
The new facility will have a massive auditorium, a large fellowship, multiple Sunday school classrooms, a nursery, plenty of parking space, air conditioning and a covered porch that will accommodate the elderly and disabled by allowing cars to drive up to the front door.
âWeâre taking funds we would be paying in rent and using it for our own space,â says Pastor Reynolds, whose 60-member congregation has been meeting in the Oak Harbour shopping plaza across the road. The land purchase has already been paid off.
âWe have young kids, families and older folks. Itâs like a big family.â
A North Kingstown native and 1986 graduate of NK High School, Pastor Reynolds graduated from Southeastern Free Will Bible College, in North Carolina, majoring in Bible and pastoral theology. He received a masterâs in theology from Southwest Bible College and Seminary, in Georgia, and was ordained Feb. 4, 1996.
A minister for 17 years, Pastor Reynolds has served only one other church. He was associate pastor in Woodbridge, Va.
He started the Exeter Beacon Free Will Baptist church, one of two remaining in Rhode Island â the other is in Chepachet â in September 2002. At first Beacon held services in the Wickford Middle School, then moved to Oak Harbour four years ago.
âWe came here because we saw the need for a church. Being from the area, I knew the demographics and where churches were located.â Before the VFW hall, up the road on the North Kingstown line, became a church, he notes, âthere was no church on that whole stretch of Route 2.
Other than the Exeter Chapel, Beacon is the only church in town since the West Exeter Baptist Church closed after its congregation dwindled and the pastor retired.
âOne hundred-fifty years ago there were 23 Free Will Baptist churches in Rhode Island,â Pastor Reynolds notes, adding that, statewide, the denomination merged with the American Baptists in 1911. âMost of the existing Free Will Baptist churches in our country are in the southern states.â
Among other tenets of their faith, Free Will Baptists do not christen babies, choosing instead to baptize people, Pastor Reynolds explains, âwhen they have come to the point where they accept Jesus Christ as their savior. Itâs an outward symbol of an inward decision.â Such a revelation, he notes, can happen as early as the age of four or as late as elderly adulthood.
There are 60 active members of his congregation but, taking a massive leap of faith, the new church auditorium will have seating for 250. âWe will have room to grow,â he says.
The target date for the formal opening is May 1, 2012. The church has a building fund but Pastor Reynolds also receives financial support by spreading the word.
âI present our vision [for ministry] at different churches and then they give.â
Beaconâs mission, he says, is âdedicated to helping you and your family have a close personal relationship with Jesus Christ through Biblical teaching and warm Christian fellowship.â
These interactions can occur around meals. Once a month the membership has a supper that can be clam cakes and chowder or, during hunting season, wild game. Pastor Reynolds, an avid hunter, has provided such varied fare as venison, moose, turkey, duck and goose.
His dream when he returned to Rhode Island, he says, was for Beacon church âto be a place where anyone can come home and hear the good news about Jesus Christ. We want to be a positive in the community. Weâve talked to the Town Council about [outreach programs] and are looking into areas to help.â
He recognizes that heâs setting course on uncharted waters.
âI have seen God answer our prayers and be faithful to us in providing,â Pastor Reynolds declares. âIt would make it very difficult not to trust Him in this. He has been there in the past; I can trust Him for the future.â
Martha Smith is an award-winning journalist and author. Retired, she is an independent contractor for SRIN and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.