AUGUSTA — The former St. Andrew Church has been sold, but will remain a house of God.
The former Catholic church near Cony High School in Augusta is the new home of Kennebec Community Church, a young, growing church affiliated with the Southern Baptist Convention, said the Rev. Dan Coleman, lead pastor.
The church, which last hosted Catholic services in 2011, is a flurry of activity, with volunteers and contractors working into the night to renovate the building with a goal of having it ready for services by Easter — April 20.
Coleman, 29, who lives in Augusta with his wife and two young daughters, said most of the renovation work is being done by church members, who have volunteered their time to run wires, shape wood for a new stage, paint, clean and cook meals for others working on the project.
“Our people are very giving of their time. This is their church and they care about it,” Coleman said, estimating that as many as 100 people have helped with the extensive renovations. “God is here. It’s easy for people to give up their time when they sense that.”
St. Andrew closed as a Catholic church in 2011 under a plan approved by the Roman Catholic Diocese of Portland. The plan was designed to improve the finances of St. Michael Parish, which includes St. Augustine and St. Mary churches and St. Michael School, all in Augusta; and four other churches — St. Denis in Whitefield, St. Francis Xavier in Winthrop, St. Joseph in Gardiner and Sacred Heart in Hallowell.
The Rev. Francis Morin, parish administrator of St. Michael Parish, said St. Andrew itself was financially stable at the time, but the parish as a whole was struggling financially and needed to give up some of its property.
Morin said he is pleased the building will remain a church.
“I think it will be a nice place of worship for them, as it was for us,” Morin said. “I wish them well.”
Coleman declined to reveal the purchase price, saying only that the two church organizations agreed on a price that pleased both parties.
The church’s value is assessed at $810,000, according to city records; though as a church, it is exempt from property taxes.
Kennebec Community Church was formed about nine years ago in Augusta by the Rev. Chris Johnson, who, Coleman said, came to Augusta looking to establish a church because Maine was the “least churched” state in the country.
Johnson asked Coleman, who’d been attending the church about eight months, to become an associate pastor. A couple of years ago, when Johnson decided it was time for him to return to his home state, Alabama, Coleman became the lead pastor.
The group also has founded churches in Whitefield and Winthrop. Kennebec Community Church has been holding services in a leased building off Glenridge Drive.
The Glenridge building is much smaller than St. Andrew. Coleman said the church was new and small when he joined, but now about 250 people attend Sunday services. Because of the small building they’ve been using, services are split into three back-to-back-to-back gatherings.
The two-story, 7,300 square-foot former St. Andrew building off South Belfast Avenue offers much more space.
“We worship God, not the building; but (the Glenridge building’s size) was stunting the growth God is bringing us,” Coleman said. “We didn’t want that to happen anymore.”
The sale closed in January, and Coleman said church members started work within hours.
He said church leaders have examined the finances of owning the larger facility and are confident the church can afford it. They also hope it will allow them to grow even larger.
“God has given me a big vision — a vision of a healthy, thriving church in this area,” Coleman said. “Our mission statement is to love Jesus, love others and help others love Jesus. That is reflected in everything we do.”
The renovation includes new wallboard, installation of televisions and a large video screen behind the stage, large speakers and a sound system capable of pumping out music that will be part of services. In addition, work includes new carpeting, a coffee bar, new equipment for the commercial kitchen, new bathrooms and extensive renovation of the downstairs area, which has space for social time, several classrooms and a large children’s area, including a nursery.
Coleman said the 11-acre parcel surrounding their building will allow the church to host outdoor gatherings with ease.
Though construction hasn’t started yet, the church is expected to have a new neighbor on St. Andrews Street, the public road that leads from South Belfast Avenue to the church. The Islamic Society of Greater Augusta, a nonprofit group founded in 2009, received Augusta Planning Board approval last year to build a 1,230 square-foot mosque.
Coleman said members of Kennebec Community Church met and chatted with some members of the yet-to-be-built mosque at a recent town meeting.
“We believe God would want us to reach out with love to everyone he puts in our path,” Coleman said. “We plan to be good neighbors.”
As part of the renovation, church members are replacing the St. Andrew pews with chairs. Church members re-purposed some of the pews, using the wood from them to build the new stage. And the number of chairs hints at the type of growth church leaders hope they will continue to see.
“We’ve got 400 chairs waiting to come in,” Coleman said as he stood in the expansive worship space.
Keith Edwards — email@example.comTwitter: @kedwardskj