Crane congregation works to make new building a reality
By Debbie Raney
Seeing a dream or a vision come to life can sometimes take a lot of blood, sweat and tears. And, according to Pastor Mike Schnitker of Crane, it sometimes can take a miracle or two.
Six years ago the congregation of the Crane Fellowship was holding services in the multi-purpose room at the Crane school. Though this set-up was handy and adequate, Schnitker said that the fellowship wanted to have their own space, somewhere that would be their own.
The first step in building their own church was finding land. Schnitker said this became the first challenge the congregation would face. When looking for property to purchase, they learned the lots in Crane are all 25-feet wide by 150-feet long, and very seldom were two neighboring lots owned by the same people.
It took a lot of phone calls and a lot of searching, but after over a year, the fellowship had five connecting lots available for purchase. Well, almost connecting. For some odd reason, there was a 5-foot strip of land between the lots that belonged to another individual — eventually, the congregation bought this strip as well, and the plans to build a church could proceed.
However, the land purchase had taken every cent the fellowship had saved. The next stages would have to be put on hold until more funds were raised. This, said Schnitker, is when miracles began to happen.
“Money just started coming in,” he said. “And people began to offer help.”
The congregation soon found they had enough money to drill a well. And then, there was enough funds to hire an architect. And then, enough to put in a septic system. The dream of having their own church was slowly becoming a reality for the Crane Fellowship.
Generosity continued to flow as the church started the building process. The congregation was offered the expertise of local building contractor Joe Davis, free of charge. A congregation of Mennonites from the Albany area made numerous trips to Crane to help with the construction, the rock work on the porch was donated and $5,000 worth of hand-made cabinets were donated for the kitchen — Schnitker said the generosity shown to the Crane Fellowship was inspirational and miraculous.
Because of this generosity, the fellowship was able to pay for the building as it was completed. “It’s incredible,” said Schnitker. “This is a $250,000 to $275,000 building and we don’t owe a dime. For a congregation of 40 people, that would have been a huge debt load.”
The Crane Fellowship soon found that the giving nature of their community didn’t end with construction. Chairs, a piano, kitchen appliances, pews and many other items were given to the church by individuals, as well as other churches. Schnitker said the church chairs are Mennonite and Pentecostal, the pews are Pentecostal and Nazarene and the tables are Baptist — truly a non-denominational church.
When the members of the Crane Fellowship first met with an architect, Schnitker said they didn’t have an exact design in mind, but they knew exactly what they wanted: a design that focused on family. And a building that felt like “you were going home” when you entered.
The completed building meets this criteria. From the covered porch entrance, to the gathering room that is planned for just inside the front door, the church is family-friendly. Although the main room is generally full of chairs, pews, pulpit and piano, it can easily be turned into a basketball court or other game area — no piece of furniture is permanently attached. The overhead lights are even covered with ball guards. Rather than lay carpet or install tile, the congregation left the floor as cement — Schnitker said this allows for easy cleanup.
A nursery was built near the back of the congregation area, but again the design stayed with a family-friendly atmosphere. Rather than segregate the children completely away from their parents, a window between the two rooms allows a constant visual connection.
As funding allows, the Crane Fellowship has plans to finish a few more of the inside details of their church, including the possibility of hanging a juniper wood cross above the pulpit. They also hope to create more parking space and landscape their lot.
But Schnitker said one of the projects he most looks forward to completing is getting a metal “Crane Fellowship” sign put up in the church yard. The letters were made and gifted to Schnitker from his father, who passed away earlier this fall.
The Crane Fellowship has been holding services in their new church for over a month now, and Schnitker said he has witnessed how the past six years have affected the congregation. “Building this church touched a lot of lives,” he said. “I’ve seen people’s faith grow.”
Sunday school classes are held at 4:45 p.m. and service begins at 6 p.m. each Sunday. Like everything else in the Crane Fellowship, the service times were set with family in mind. The majority of the congregation comes from the agriculture community, and Schnitker said the evening service time allows parishioners to feed their cattle, change their irrigation and bring their high school-age kids to the Crane dormitory.
In addition to regular services, the youth group Young Life meets at the church, and a Christmas Eve service will be held on Saturday, Dec. 24.