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God’s house in a warehouse

At 100 years old, a West Virginia church transforms a bakery into a sanctuary. The congregation celebrates its history as it enjoys a revival.

PARKERSBURG, W.Va. — Teddy Tackett is no crackpot.

He says he was a cracked pot, though, when the Lynn Street Church of Christ came calling in 2001.

Both the congregation, which had dwindled to about 35 mostly older members, and Tackett, who had left 13 years of full-time ministry to sell vacuum cleaners,  were praying for revival, he said.
“It was the grace of God that put us together,” said Tackett, now the senior minister.
Since Tackett’s arrival, the church has focused on restoring broken Christians and showing Christ’s love to unsaved neighbors in one of the older, rougher sections of this industrial, working-class city of 33,000 souls.
“A hundred years ago, when this church started, this was a rich place, a great neighborhood,” Tackett said.
“But it really needs a light right now, and God has allowed us to be the light.”
In the past seven years, the once-dying church has baptized about 150 people, leaders said. Average Sunday morning attendance has topped 300.
Elder Bob Franklin said he warmed a pew at a different congregation for years but never really got involved.
“I felt like I was not growing,” Franklin said. “But immediately, Teddy started plugging me into doing things. … You weren’t prejudged. Relationships were genuine. I could let down the wall. … And all the hugs I got here, I needed.”
Along the way, the congregation — established in 1908 — outgrew the building at 1714 Lynn Street where it had met since 1913.
Rather than move to a more desirable part of this Ohio River town or go in debt to construct a larger building, members chose to expand into the old Storck Bakery next door.
“There’s a new kind of bread being baked here now — the Bread of Life,” elder Tom Powers said with a smile.
The church occupies about a tenth of the 80,000-square-foot warehouse, landlord Terry Wyatt said. Other tenants include an insulation contractor and a bar and pool hall called the Nip N’ Cue.
“Right down the road, there’s crack houses,” said member David Ray, a Bible major and Student Government Association president at Ohio Valley University in nearby Vienna. “It’s not the greatest place, but isn’t that where you would find Jesus shining the light?”
In the Lynn Street church’s darkest days, the lights did not shine brightly at all, members said. The building and parking lot were dark most of the time.
Moreover, a frosting-like stain covered the glass on the front door so that passersby could not see what was happening inside. “People were only around the church three times a week,” said Wanda Mills, a Lynn Street member for 40 years.
One of the “old faithful” who kept coming even as the church became a shell of its former self, she remembered Tackett from gospel meetings he had preached at Lynn Street while serving as a minister in nearby Belpre, Ohio.
In 18 months out of the ministry, Tackett had given away his sermon outlines and Bible commentaries and settled into a full-time sales position.
“I was really pleased,” he recalled. “I was just going to serve God.”
But then Mills and other Lynn Street members started dialing his number. “Teddy, please come help us,” they’d say.
An elder invited Tackett to lunch and asked him to come work with the youth.
“Last time I was there, there wasn’t anybody under 70,” Tackett replied. “I don’t know why you need a youth minister.”
However, the members’ persistence paid off. Tackett, a fourth-generation church member born and raised in West Virginia, relented. He said he’d volunteer on a part-time basis.
But God had bigger plans.
In its search for revival, one of the first things the church did was turn on the lights. Along with brightening its parking lot, the congregation replaced its stained door with clear glass and welcomed neighborhood kids to shoot baskets at the church building.
As the congregation grew, members devoted time and money to ministries such as the Cupboards of Love food pantry and the Mid-Ohio Valley Work Camp, an annual effort of area Churches of Christ to paint homes for the poor and elderly.
“We want to take the word from our seats to the streets,” said Tackett, who soon quit his sales job and became Lynn Street’s full-time preacher.
Members distributed hundreds of free Bibles and took leftover food from fellowship meals to neighbors, one of whom was converted after living next door to the church for decades. The church even handed out gift certificates to Wal-Mart and Kmart, Tackett said, as a way of saying, “We do care about people.’”
Member Gwen Crum, who leads the food pantry ministry, said, “We definitely come from the philosophy here that people don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.”
Twice a year, the church organizes Friends Day services and encourages  members to invite the unchurched.
Like dozens of others, John and Judy Suek, who said they immediately felt welcomed and accepted, were baptized as a result.
“When you come in, you don’t feel like an outsider,” said Judy Suek, who owns a popular eatery, Judy’s Hot Dog Stand. “You just feel like you belong here.
“There are so many churches that just go through the motions,” she said. “But this church is doing something every day, and I think that’s what God wants.”
It’s a congregation where no one seems to mind that one deacon, who was converted through Friends Day, wears an earring.
Another deacon visited the first time because he was trying to sell the church a phone book ad. Tackett told him he’d buy one if the salesman came to a service.
It’s a congregation where most of the five elders said they came needing spiritual healing and encouragement — and found it.
“This church does not have a judgmental nature,” Powers said. “Anyone at any stage of their spiritual walk is welcome and encouraged. People don’t feel threatened. … There’s just a nature of forgiveness, and it’s up to God  to lead you where you need to be, and it’s up to me to help you stay connected to God.”
It’s a congregation that sees a building with a bar attached as the perfect place to reach people whose only hope is Jesus.
“I went into church last Sunday morning, and a guy is sitting there with a ballcap on,” said Tackett, who wears jeans during the week and preaches most Sundays without a tie. “I said, ‘Praise God, that means somebody is here who’s never been to church and doesn’t know how to act.’”
The church’s personality reflects that of its minister, said Kim Eckels, wife of elder Scott Eckels.
“Teddy is the most amazingly loving man, and he is a hands-on person,” said Kim Eckels, mother of Logan, 15; Caroline, 13; and Olivia, 9. “I mean, it is not unusual for him to hug almost everyone in the congregation every Sunday. There’s something about that open, raw kind of affection that is infectious.”
Like a half-dozen families at Lynn Street, the Mendozas came from an instrumental Christian Church background.
Mel Mendoza, a father of three who serves as Lynn Street’s deacon for youth programs, said he didn’t care whether the congregation had instruments or not.
He simply wanted to attend a growing, creative church serious about reaching lost people.
“It quickly became apparent … that the leadership here and the church here were going to break away from the traditional mindset and just go evangelize,” said Mendoza, the voice of the puppet “Milton” in Lynn Street’s Sunday morning children’s program. “That was the thing for me, that they were going door to door in the community and spreading the gospel.”
Asked if music is an issue at Lynn Street given the backgrounds of members such as Mendoza, Tackett said the congregation always has been a cappella, “and that’s who we are.”
“That’s not an issue,” he said. “To the best of our ability — I know this sounds crazy — we are not an issue church. If you have an issue, you need to go someplace else. We’re worried about saving lost people. We have things that we disagree about, but we are not an issue-driven church.”
With convert John Suek helping manage the project, the church renovated the warehouse itself — relying on members to sand drywall, connect wires, install plumbing and handle most every aspect of the construction. The project cost about $90,000, a fraction of what hiring a professional crew would have required.
Before the carpet was put in, members used markers to scrawl their favorite Scriptures on the auditorium floor.
“So, we are standing on the promises every Sunday,” said Jenny Powers, Tom’s wife.
While enjoying its revival, the church plans a number of special events in 2008 — its centennial year — to celebrate its past and honor the faithful members who refused to let the congregation die.
“I’m a sentimental nut,” Tackett said. “I just really want to show the younger generation how important the older people are to us. … Without their faith and commitment to Christ, the Lynn Street church would not be having a revival.
“They rode through the storms and continued to trust God and have faith in God.”

Filed under: Churches That Work National

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