BUCKHANNON – Sunday, Jan. 27, 2019, was the final day the New Community Church hosted its services in the red brick church across from the Stockert Youth & Community Center’s basketball court in Buckhannon.
But don’t fret: the church has finally found a new home for their church congregation and ministries. On Sunday, Feb. 10 the New Community Church will open at 38 N. Kanawha St. with their Kick-off Celebration Services at 9:30 and 11 a.m.
However, congregation members and anyone interested in joining them can get a sneak peek inside even sooner – this Sunday, Feb. 3, New Community Church has scheduled an open house from 9:30 a.m. to noon with worship slated for 10:30 a.m.
The new location, which previously housed Audrey’s Downtown Restaurant, will offer church members more than 4,000 square feet for their worship center and ministries; in fact, it will provide space for the pastor’s office and a fully-functioning kitchen for gatherings or snacktimes for their youth.
New Community Church Pastor Justin Bowers said the church will be having their worship services in the main part of the building, while the kids and youth ministry will meet in the old banquet hall area.
Bowers said along with other features, they hope to install a nursey, complete with a cry room for moms whose children need it.
Bowers said he and his wife, Carrie Bowers, grew up in Buckhannon and moved away for about 10 years. They moved back here almost seven years ago to start the New Community Church.
“For the first year-and-a-half, we met in our house and in a youth room of another church that let us go there,” he said. “We also met in the Buckhannon-Upshur Middle School cafeteria and the VFW Bingo Hall. We are used to being mobile.”
At the very first meeting on their back porch, Bowers said there were 30 people.
“Over the course of six-and-a-half years, we have grown to the point where we have had 200 or 250 people attending each Sunday,” Bowers said. “It is very exciting. There are probably 30 to 50 children who attend each Sunday, and we have a pocket of 20 to 30 students who attend from West Virginia Wesleyan College each weekend.”
Bowers said many young families make up New Community Church’s congregation.
“We love that we have a multi-generational group that attends,” he said.
He says the church functions in a relatively simple fashion.
“We have Kidztown, which is a high-energy group,” he said. “I like to say it is wrong for us to bore children at church. So, it is incredibly exciting. Our director, Abbie Golden, is phenomenal, and the team she has built just does an incredible job. My kids grew up in the program and just loved every moment of it.”
During the week, New Community Church holds small, community groups.
“Their focus is meeting in homes, and most of them adopt some kind of need (to address) in the community,” Bowers said. “They are not just an in-grown thing – it’s about how do they serve and how do they grow in that way.”
Bowers said the New Community Church is very member-inclusive.
“To be part of an evangelical church today has so many assumptions and so many labels,” he said. “As you know, our culture is continually dividing more and more. So, when we came back to plant the church, we wanted to be a church that is for Buckhannon, that is for the good of this region. Now, we are thinking not just Buckhannon, but Appalachia – what does that look like?
“We definitely hold to some of the standard theology of evangelicalism, but what we are finding and what we love about this community is, and our church community is, that it is possible for all of us to sit at the table and still love each other and still care about each other,” Bowers added.
Bowers said he likens it to a family Thanksgiving Dinner in that not everyone may get along with everyone else, but there is a commitment among the family to love one another and remain at the same table.
“We talk a lot about ‘you don’t have to agree with us to be with us,”’ Bowers said. “We are all on this spiritual journey, and we are all looking for this. There are things we hold to, but we are not angry about it. One of our core values is what we are for is greater than what we are against. As a church, we talk about sin. But guilt doesn’t change people – freedom is what changes people. That is what we center on.”
Bowers said if you sat down with members of New Community Church, you would probably hear every political view and multiple theological views.
“You see this forming, but it is the nature of relationships that keeps these folks together and building in that way,” he said.
Bowers said for the past five-and-a-half years, the church rented a space located directly across from the Stockert Youth Center basketball court, in the red brick church.
“It was a good building; however, it has been hard because it is not ADA-accessible,” Bowers said. “It had an upstairs sanctuary, and our children’s ministry has simply outgrown it. We have from 30 to 50 kids each Sunday.”
Bowers said they have been looking for a new spot for a long time but until now, had not found the right space for their congregation and ministry.
“In the last month, we found out this space was coming available and started talking to the owner and everything worked out,” Bowers said.
Bowers said his undergraduate work was in youth ministry, while his seminary master’s degree was in transformational leadership. He just completed his doctorate in organizational leadership.
“Our denomination is based in Chicago, Illinois, and they have about 850 churches nationwide, and we were excited to work with them and bring it back to West Virginia,” Bowers said. “The denomination is called the Evangelical Covenant Church. We actually planted their first church in West Virginia. We also planted New Community Elkins over in Elkins.”
Bowers said the banquet hall will serve as the new youth and children’s ministry area.
“What we are so excited about is, this area will be such a secure and safe place for our kids,” Bowers said. “Parents can drop them off. There is a safe check-in, and there is so much space for the kids.”
New Community Church has two worship services on Sunday mornings – one at 9:30 and a second at 11 a.m.
“Both are exactly the same, so anybody can come,” Bowers said. “I preach as I am now – in jeans and a T-shirt. Folks are welcome to come as they are. Our worship is led by a band. It is kind of a modern worship service – music that folks would recognize from the radio. And again, it is, ‘come as you are.’ We always have coffee and snacks. We are a place where kids are welcome.”
Bowers said the church is very excited to have a permanent place in the community.
“To find a place like this that is already here and works perfectly allows us to say ‘let’s put more hope into Buckhannon’ and see how this plays out,” Bowers said.
Bowers said the community has lots of outreach efforts in the community. and one of its biggest is Appalachian Impact.
“When we launched the church, we started Appalachian Impact,” he said. “The goal was always for Appalachian Impact to be its own separate nonprofit organization.”
Bowers said AI is focused on building hope for at-risk students. It is for students in elementary through high school and over the last five years, it has gained its nonprofit status.
“It serves students in Upshur County, and we have now partnered with Randolph County,” he said. “We do three programs: one-to-one mentoring; leadership cohorts; and summer camps.”
He said the one-to-one mentoring provides mentors to students who have been identified in the schools as at-risk. The leadership cohorts program is a group of eight to 10 seventh-grade students, who are now in eighth grade, with two adult facilitators who will stay with them until graduation, working with them in the schools and helping them establish personal and community goals.
The summer camps are similar to Energy Express in that they focus on literacy and creative arts and are in the school for four to six weeks in the summer. Bowers said the summer camps are faith-based and have been a great experience for students.
Bowers said the new amount of space offered through the new location will open up many opportunities.
“We are thinking about a night for youth to hang out and for kids, down the road, to be able to drop in and get homework help,” he said. “Just some things that will help us live the vision that we have of our church, which is following Christ beyond Sundays. Everyone that is a Christian goes to church on Sunday – but Monday through Saturday is where it really matters. That is what we are trying to help people live into.”
Bowers said he is still excited about Appalachian Impact.
“The church can be an obstacle to people, it can be a place where if you had a bad experience or grew up in a setting where when you went to church it was just guilt, guilt, guilt,” he said. “We want people to see and connect in a way that says it’s okay. You can come in here, and it’s okay to have questions and not have everything figured out. We are all on this journey.
“Appalachian Impact is actually made up of people from all over our community who are saying there is an epidemic of hopelessness that is crushing children and youth of today,” he continued. “That is the heart of it. If we can help them start dreaming again, that will help them change their lives. We want to see kids do that. We want adults to get involved in that.”
A brief history of the building at 38 N. Kanawha St.
Dale Darnall currently owns the property where New Community Church will be relocating. Darnall said the building has a rich history in Buckhannon.
“It used to be the armory at one time,” Darnall said. “Then World War II broke out and they moved the armory up to Tennerton. But before that, this was the armory.”
Since 38 N. Kanawha St. is located next to the railroad tracks, it has been used to house many different businesses, including hardware stores. Darnall said there used to be loading docks on one side of the building, and items from the trains would be stored in the building once they were unloaded.
“These two buildings were hardware stores, mostly,” Darnall said. “Most recently, it was the location of Audrey’s Restaurant. Before, it has served as a milk-bottling plant at one time and had several types of businesses you wouldn’t normally imagine would be here.”
Darnall said the building was constructed in 1910 by George F. Day.
“Day came from California and was a true entrepreneur,” he said. “This building and many others in Buckhannon were built around the same time. That is when the town of Buckhannon was booming.”
According to Darnall, Adrian used to be the hub of Upshur County, but he said when the railroad came, the Adrian Bank moved to the new hub of Upshur County – Buckhannon.
“That is where the name of the Adrian Buckhannon Bank came from,” he said.
Darnall showed the old safe in the office space of the new location.
“There was a lot of money that went through here at one time,” Darnall said. “There is even a safe inside of the safe.”
He said he purchased the building in 1989 and is happy to see New Community Church in this location.
Darnall recently took My Buckhannon on a tour through the incredible building space – the new location of the New Community Church.
During the tour, he took Bowers out to a blank space on the side of the building and told him that would be the perfect spot for a mural.
“Put your church on there,” Darnall told Bowers. “Put God’s word on there. You will be surprised how many people will see it.”
Folks who would like to join the New Community Church are welcome. Those with questions may call 304-460-9160. Both New Community Church and Appalachian Impact have Facebook pages and can be contacted online at www.newcommunitywv.com or www.appalachianimpact.org.