The Rev. Don Spires stood silent, a wide grin spread across his face. As he looked out at his sanctuary, soft light poured in through stained glass windows, settling on row upon row of plush pews. Volunteers busily worked to put away the final bit of Christmas decorations following the holiday, as a giant cross inset in the ceiling tiles hovered above.
Only 10 months ago the pastor of Calvary Baptist Church was positioned in a similar spot, but he surveyed a drastically different scene. There were no windows, pews or ceiling tiles. There wasn’t even a pulpit.
Back then, the building was a shell, following the decimation brought by Hurricane Matthew back in 2016. It was taking the 80-year-old church quite a long time to recover. In fact, Spires wasn’t sure that would even be possible.
With an estimate of roughly $1 million to repair the structure, Spires fretted over the fate of his congregation.
“We didn’t have flood insurance. And when I went to talk to the congregation ... it was just the most depressed group of people you’d ever seen,” he said.
Spires offered three suggestions on how Calvary could move forward. None of the options, he recalled, were particularly appealing.
“I told them we could sell it as is and disband. I said we could sell it and go to a storefront space under the name Calvary or even something new and start over,” he said. “Or I said we could try to fix the church.”
They opted for the latter, although none thought it was really feasible.
“They just kinda of shook their heads ... like ‘preacher, that ain’t gonna happen,’” he said.
Like biblical forefathers Moses, Noah and Solomon, Spires was tasked with an seemingly insurmountable building project. Moses constructed the tabernacle, Noah built the ark and Solomon, the temple. While none had the physical know-how to construct these on their own, they trusted in faith to see it come to fruition.
So, like the prophets of old, Spires decided to let the Almighty lead the way.
“I remember, I asked God what I should do ... and he said, ‘fix my church,’” Spires said. “I didn’t know how I was going to do that, but I knew I had to try.”
Little by little, an answer began to present itself. Small donations began to roll in, as did plenty of prayers. Congregants went above and beyond, some even gifting property and proceeds from land sales. The church also took out a $50,000 loan to help make up for the cash shortfall.
“It was really surprising ... I was surprised by the people who donated, and I was honestly surprised by the fact that some didn’t,” he said.
While most of the assistance was from individuals rather than other churches, Calvary did receive a donation from a fellow Baptist church in New York.
“They sent us $1,000 but asked that we keep them updated. I was sent them progress reports so they could see how their money was being spent. We even had a family from that church who stopped in on their way to Disney World to see the church and worship with us,” he said.
Over the many months, the new Calvary Baptist Church began to take shape. Areas of the sanctuary and other building spaces were renewed, sweeping away the mildew and decay left by the storm.
“It took almost a year. We had one guy who did all of the dry wall and sheet rock, another guy who did all of the electric work,” he said.
The results left Spires simply beaming. He says the space is filled with personal and symbolic touches, coming together to create a cohesive appeal. One of those is the ceiling. In addition to the inset cross, there is a border of tile featuring grapes that frame the cross.
“I know nothing about decorative ceiling tile,” he said with a laugh. “But I got online and started looking and found this. They have the grapes, which are representative of God’s blessings.”
Spires says many items were donated to the church. The pews and the stained glass windows were both offered by benefactors, as was the organ.
“I had a lady who called me up and said she had a problem ... usually that means someone is going to ask for money to help with their rent or car payment,” he said with a laugh. “But she actually said that she was trying to give away an organ.”
As luck (or rather the good Lord) would have it, Spires was actually in search of an organ, but the going prices were way out of their league — roughly $60,000.
The instrument, which was owned by the woman’s late father, came complete with all of the bells and whistles. Spires gratefully accepted it, and it now sits in a prominent position in the sanctuary. The pulpit too is another piece offered to Calvary. It is on loan from a fellow minister.
“He was going to sell it but his father-in-law made it so it was too sentimental, but he let us borrow it,” he said.
While there are still phases of work left to be done, the majority has been completed and the sanctuary has formally been dedicated. It’s a fresh start and a new foundation, one that Spires hopes to build upon.
And he knows exactly who to give credit for the miraculous series of events that allowed Calvary to literally rise again.
“Every day, you trust that God knows what you need and that he will take care of his business. This shows that he is a faithful God. When something comes together like this, it’s a God thing,” he said with a smile.