Two local churches have shared the same address for more than a year.
It's one thing to preach from the pulpit about sharing and togetherness, and another thing entirely to practice what you preach.
But when the Revs. Leo Barbee and Donald Dunn talk about these values,they're speaking from experience.
That's because, for the last year and a half, the two Lawrence churches they represent have been sharing one house of God.
If you look them up in the local phone book, you'll find that First Church of the Nazarene and Victory Bible Church both have the same address: 1942 Mass.
"It's been a good relationship between the congregations," said Barbee, pastor of Victory Bible.
"It has been a joy, a real good fellowship. As we're coming in, they're (Nazarene) getting ready to go out. It's not standoffish. The only problem is the building gets congested when we're both there."
"It's been a time of learning and teaching," he said. "We've found it very rewarding to be together, and we've forged friendships here.
"Even though in the future we'll be in separate buildings, we'll still have combined worship times with our churches."
The two congregations have been sharing the building since April 1998, when Victory Bible bought it from Nazarene and then moved in. Nazarene had been at that address since 1954.
At the time of the sale, completion of the first part of Nazarene's planned church complex south of town appeared to be a good 18 months distant. (It has since been pushed back several times.)
So Victory Bible agreed to let Nazarene stay where it was until its new building was ready.
That's how the two churches came to be under one roof.
"Victory Bible has been tremendous," Dunn said. "They've been very kind and hospitable. They've been willing to share this space and accommodate us.
"We could have been misplaced. I don't know too many other purchasers who would've allowed us to stay this long."
The building is the first permanent home for Victory Bible, founded 16 years ago. Church members have met, during the years, at different sites in Lawrence. Barbee is one of the church founders.
'Working out details'
Excavation for the first phase of Nazarene's complex, which is on a 91.3-acre site south of Lawrence near Haskell Avenue and County Road 458, began Sept. 20.
Dunn said he hopes the church will be able to move into the initial 16,000-square-foot structure on the site by next summer.
The date to begin work at the site has been delayed several times.
"Originally, we'd hoped to start construction in March this year and finish by January 1, 2000. Then we actually moved the start date up ourselves to fall of '98. But the architect had a backlog of projects and couldn't accommodate that schedule. So there was a problem getting the finished plans out for bidding," Dunn explained.
The church also had to wrangle back and forth between the county and the state to figure out what kind of septic system was required. This process took 10 months, from late summer of '98 up to May this year.
Finally, a building permit was issued.
But until the septic business was resolved, the church couldn't take final cost figures to a bank for financing.
"It became an intricate situation of working out all the final details. Because of increased construction costs and the time element involved, the amount we needed to borrow nearly doubled. We had to go back and get the approval of our congregation and our church district," Dunn said.
Nazarene had hoped to borrow $300,000. Their loan is now $600,000.
The first phase of the project, including the cost of the land, has been appraised at $1.35 million, he said.
The $875,000 building itself will be a multi-use gymnasium with additional space for offices, classrooms and a large kitchen. Dunn called it a "worship-nasium."
Plans include a permanent sanctuary, another gym, athletic fields and a retirement complex.
Meanwhile, Nazarene pays monthly rent, plus a portion of utility expenses, to Victory Bible to share the building at 1942 Mass.
Assume new roles
On the surface, at least, the two churches would appear to be unlikely roommates.
Victory Bible, which has about 200 members, is multi-racial, multi-cultural and includes people of different Christian denominations.
Nazarene, meanwhile, has roughly 250 members, most of whom are white.
But Dunn and Barbee said it's been a match made in heaven.
The churches held joint worship services each Sunday in August and another one Sept. 26.
"Our congregations have become friends. We need to do more things together. We'll have to sit down and plan it," Barbee said.
"It's been great for us. This has been a wonderful time to get to know people," Dunn agreed. "Lawrence is a very diverse community, and we have become a congregation that's loving and accepting of people from all backgrounds."
Neither minister reported any tension between the churches as a result of cultural differences.
In fact, they said, the only conflicts that have come up have been about things like scheduling the use of rooms in the building.
But it has been a challenge for both churches to assume new roles.
"They (Nazarene) were the owners here, and now they're the tenants. It takes some adjusting; you don't just do it overnight," Barbee said.
"People have been tied to this building for years. You know it mentally (that ownership has changed), but emotionally, it takes time. We understand."
Carolyn Bond, who's serving as church secretary for both Dunn and Barbee, has belonged to Nazarene for 45 years.
"Our congregation has to consciously remember, 'This is not our building.' For me, it's hard. I was raised here,I was married here, my kids were baptized here. So there are a lot of memories," she said.
If Nazarene is able to move into its new home next summer, the two churches will have shared one building for more than two years.
It's been a valuable experience, Dunn said.
"It's not always convenient to share a building," he said. "But any inconveniences we've had have caused us to move out of our comfort zones.
"It's shown us that any ministry in this community wanting to drop the boundaries that keep us apart will create inconvenience at times and require sacrifice. That's what this has taught us."
-- Jim Baker's phone message number is 832-7173; his e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.