I am doing something a bit different with Dwell & Cultivate this week. The people who are my "family" at Stone Ridge Church will soon face a big decision about our future. We are becoming increasingly overcrowded and must decide if it is time to build the next phase of our campus. Regardless of the decision we make, I think it is time to tell some of the story of how we got where we are. The vast majority of our attenders don't know that history...
It's a bit hard to imagine the pioneer spirit and the rugged faith that set the scene for the seven people who decided to plant a church in Yuma, Arizona. It was December, 1945, and World War II had finally reached its conclusion at the signing of an armistice with Japan just a few months earlier. The City of Yuma had become a part of military operations during that era with the establishment and growth of an airfield. The fertile Colorado River Valley and warm weather made farming a natural part of the economy. The city still held a vital role as a key River Crossing and Yuma was a good place for people to find jobs as our nation rebuilt.
One thing Yuma did not have -- with over 5,000 people and growing, it did not have a Southern Baptist church. It had at least two Baptist churches at the time, but they were a part of a different denomination. 1945 was a time in American life when loyalties ran deep. If you were a "Chevy man" you most likely drove nothing but Chevrolets; if you liked Kellogg's Corn Flakes, Post would never do; and if you were a Southern Baptist, you wanted to make sure the town had one of those. People had "reasons" for their loyalty and Southern Baptists were (and are) deeply committed to the cooperative way they do missions. That, and the strong belief in the Bible as the "inerrant Word of God", surely weighed into the decision those seven made.
That little group of people started "First Southern Baptist Church of Yuma", with the encouragement and help of First Southern Baptist Church of Wellton. The Wellton church was just a few months old itself, but that was part of their pioneer spirit. The new Yuma church started meeting for worship and Bible Studies and called their first pastor just a couple of months into 1946. He left -- we don't know the reason (maybe the heat?) -- and moved back to Texas after only six months. The church, undeterred by the setback, kept moving forward. They were growing and it wasn't long before they moved into their first building.
For the next fifty years, the church grew up in what became the heart of Yuma. They planted on their first long-term campus -- at 8th Avenue and 16th Street -- in the early 1950s. As the years went by, they built and remodeled buildings to accommodate growth. They purchased houses on the perimeter of the campus to add usable square footage and land. However, they found themselves landlocked and growth stunted by the 1980s.
I entered this story in 1986 and it became my privilege to see God lead the church in a new direction -- literally. Space problems persisted and one particularly nagging issue was the lack of bathroom space. In 1996 we decided to remodel a portion of an old building and put in spacious, beautiful new restrooms. A local contractor took charge of managing the project -- for free -- and started shopping for subcontractors. It took a few months for the work to be completed and it was an attractive blessing. But it cost us over $90,000!
We began to pray about the implications of that project. We needed more work done, but at what cost? And what would we do, given that we were landlocked on about 2 1/2 acres?
The more we prayed, the more we believed that God wanted us to relocate.
To be continued...