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The River Church: A home of their own

Last Sunday, some 73 months after its members met for the first time, the congregation of The River Church was finally able to make itself at home.

Finally, getting ready for a worship service didn't mean setting up chairs or plugging in instruments. There was nothing to load or unload.

The church finally had a space of its own.

Last weekend's services were the first for the church in its new space on Third Street. It was the end of six years of meeting in school cafeterias and church members' living rooms and the start of a new phase for the 125-member church.

The move has been a long time coming and it has had its share of false starts. The church looked into taking the Third Street space it currently occupies three years ago, shortly after Dueber's department store closed its doors. At the time, though, there wasn't a water main on that side of the street to serve the sprinkler system the remodeled building would need. Adding one would have cost $10,000, pastor Mike Armbrust said.

In 2006 the church talked about moving into the Grand Hall on the second floor of the Exchange Bank building. Developer Hosmer Brown III even announced to the city's housing and redevelopment authority that the church would be a tenant. But nothing came of the arrangement.

It was the city's decision to build a new city hall next door that helped things fall into place. The city put in the missing water main and that cleared the way for the church to make its move.

Getting everything ready to go still took a lot of work, though. That's where it was helpful to have a church that included professional plumbers and contractors.

"We did a major tearing-out of everything," Armbrust said.

There is a new wall separating the worship space from the entry way but much of the 5,000-square-foot space remains open. There is a new stage and a platform for sound equipment. There is room in the sanctuary for 180 people.

Church members did all of the work themselves. Armbrust estimated 70 people donated thousands of hours of work.

"In my mind, one of the coolest things is, you could raise the money and hire it all done, but when people provide the sweat equity it helps them buy into the notion of it being their church," he said.

There are still a few finishing touches to take care of -- trim board to put in place, ceiling tiles to install, walls to decorate -- but the space is still starting to feel like home.

Having a permanent home means a lot for the church. It will mean an end to setting up and taking down equipment for services. The new space has room for classes and for the congregation to grow. It will also allow the church to offer new events. Armbrust talked this week about adding seminars, summer programs for children and a monthly Friday night Christian rock concert for teens.

The church will hold its first seminar, a discussion of creation science, next month.

"(There are) all sorts of possibilities," he said. "The congregation is just very excited."