BLOOMINGTON - The year saw bold ideas to transform a former school in downtown Bloomington into a church building, community outreach center and a place for non-religious tenants to promote community health and education.
The work is just beginning, which means 2006 will be a year to watch as Mount Moriah Christian Church moves from Jersey Avenue in Normal to downtown and puts its plans into play at the former Bloomington Junior High School on East Washington Street.
The church's senior pastor, John Rayford, speaks of the volunteers and professionals from Mount Moriah who will be key to this effort. But he must lead.
Rayford has "painted the vision" but without exerting too much control, said Russell Savage, a church member and project volunteer. "He gives people the opportunity to lead and grow," Savage said.
Construction should start near the beginning of the new year on a 1,300-seat sanctuary in the old school's auditorium. The auditorium had been stripped and converted into the Creatures Crypt Haunted House.
The church wants to start a toddler child-care center in the old school, which the church named the Attractive Alternative, and an education program for special-needs children. The church envisions after-school tutoring, recreational programs and, eventually, a Christian school.
The nitty-gritty of such a project can become tedious, but when Rayford is around things rarely, if ever, become boring. On the pulpit, during the week and in casual conversations, the leader of the nondenominational black-led Bible church is animated and energetic.
"Everything he thinks of relates back to the Bible," Attractive Alternative tenant manager Kimberly Smith said. "It's encouraging."
The city has approved plans for renovations. Next comes financing through a capital campaign and sale of the existing church.
"He demands our first, our best, always," Rayford said. "We need to get the right people on the bus. ¦ The right people are those who have the heart and mind to do the work of the Master."