by Lisa Tome
Most years, by late June, children flock to New Life Faith Center for Vacation Bible School.
Past attendees have said that the VBS was their "vacation."
The congregation didn't host children this year. They also aren't able to enter the building themselves.
Since late March, the church building has been closed. It's structurally unsafe and repairs will be costly.
The church was built in 1983. Pastor Larry Johnson had led the church since 1998, full time for the past 16 years. His son, Shawn, is the church's associate pastor.
Larry Johnson said that he first noticed there was a problem because there were cracks in the ceiling.
He then called a structural engineer. Since that time, multiple engineers and at least four contractors have assessed the situation.
An engineering report explains that he problem likely came due to a "heavy snow load" last winter. The investigation into other structural defects is continuing. The roof trusses where a church addition was built on began snapping. There is now a visible wave in the roof. The condition worsens due to inaction. New cracks appear weekly.
The cost to replace the trusses is expensive. All the needed repairs and improvements will cost $266,000. There is currently about $32,000 in the church building fund which had been earmarked to upgrade the lower floor for community events. "We have to put $50,000 up front (toward repairs). And it's hard to raise funds without a building," said Pastor Larry Johnson.
"It floored me. This is keeping me up at night," said Pastor Larry Johnson. The church is independent and can't go to faith leadership. They also don't qualify for bank loans because church income is unstable. "There is a reason for it. I've prayed about it," he said.
For now, the congregation is meeting for Sunday service at the former Pleasant View Baptist Church building near Port Deposit. Pleasant View has loaned that building since March with no charge to New Life. While the Johnsons are very grateful, they said it isn't the same as being in their home church. Both pastors said that it's hard to build the church and retain members with no building. They are also fewer services. New Life used to have Sunday School, Sunday service, Sunday night youth group, and Wednesday night Bible study.
Borrowing a building has cut that back to Sunday School and church on Sundays. The youth group meets in private homes. The building closure has also meant canceling events - weddings and showers. No funerals can be held there.
New Life Faith Center will be hosting upcoming fundraisers in an effort to get the church repaired.
A Joe Corbi's pizza sale and a chicken barbecue are among the planned events. There will also be a pavilion Rock-A-Thon where members raise money by rocking in rocking chairs for a specified time and collect pledges. They also had a benefit at Subworks. There is a gofundme account, New Roof at New Life, which has collected about $1,000.