By MARTHA SMITH
Special to the Standard
EXETER â€“ A dozen people, many wearing paint-stained pants and displaying work-worn hands, sit in the auditorium of the recently-completed Beacon Freewill Baptist Church and reflect on how this place came to be.
It is a church built on the faith and diligence of its members â€“ helped by volunteers from other states â€“and in completing the project in less than a year, they have amazed themselves.
On Sunday at 10:30 a.m., Beacon will celebrate its grand opening with a service to which virtually all of Exeter has been invited, as well as anyone else whoâ€™d like to attend. Although the churchâ€™s active membership is around 55, the sumptuous auditorium has room for 250 and Pastor Bill Reynolds hopes every seat will be filled.
Although Beacon has invested more than $1 million in land, structure and contents, he estimated at least $800,000 was saved in labor fees because, with very little professional help, a devoted band of church-goers constructed their own house of worship from the ground up under the guidance of David Vallee, owner of Vallee Construction. Pastor Reynolds credits him with making sure everything was up to code and the work force was on the right track.
Some of those involved canâ€™t contain tears as they describe the sense of family coming together to achieve a feat to a team winning the gold medal at the Olympics.
They installed soffits and the buildingâ€™s front canopy as well as nailing siding into place, hung doors and attached hardware, put down carpet, installed the sound system, laid tile, prepared kitchen countertops, painted walls and outfitted bathrooms.
Along the way, Pastor Reynolds managed to shoot a 10-penny nail through his thumb with a power gun.
Matt Gedeon, a singer who heads the praise team, says he surprised himself not by his abilities but by how much he enjoyed the experience. It would have been impossible, he adds, â€świthout faith that God was going to use it for good.â€ť
Bob Vallee, Daveâ€™s dad, says he â€śstarted at the beginning with putting down gravel, then framing and cutting wood. I was here five to six days a week for six months, until my leg gave out and then I had eye surgery.â€ť He notes that a volunteer from Texas mapped out plating for the studs and in a stunning show of efficiency, â€śWe were hanging a truss every seven minutes.â€ť
The whole time he was recuperating, he says, â€śI thought about it [the church] day and night; it was on my heart.â€ť When he returned to see the project nearly finished, he adds, he sat down in the back and â€śfell apart.â€ť A lifelong Catholic, Vallee will be baptized at Beacon next month.
One beloved member who didnâ€™t live to see the church finished was Sally Warner, in whose memory the nursery is dedicated.
Besides beautiful exterior stonework finished by a mason who is a friend of the pastorâ€™s, stone tile in the entryway and subdued blue carpeting throughout the main rooms, all of the furnishings are first-rate.
The interiorâ€™s sumptuous decor came from McKayâ€™s Furniture; stainless steel appliances in the 200-capacity fellowship hallâ€™s kitchen were supplied by Wickford Appliance; and seats for the choir and congregation were purchased online from of New Jersey.
A glossy Yamaha grand piano and a state-of-the-art smaller Yamaha capable of creating a spectrum of special effects, were acquired from Luca Music, in Providence.
Pastor Reynolds proudly points out that the $18,000 sound system and video equipment were gifts of a church he served in Woodridge, Va.
â€śMy heart is full,â€ť says Sue Goodfellow who, with her husband, Tommy, a former cop with a construction background, has traveled north from Virginia numerous times to help out. â€śThis is just an amazing group of people. They love one another and work together for the cause of Christ. Itâ€™s such a blessing.
â€śWeâ€™ve been a lot of places but never anyplace like this.â€ť
Everyone is invited to the church service Sunday with a dinner to follow.
Martha Smith is an award-winning journalist and author. Retired, she is an independent contractor for SRIN.