The new Ashland Christian Church is a modest gray and white building on Route DD, just past the Ashland city limits. The church sits on an otherwise empty corner lot. All around, the corn is head high.
“It’s kind of like The Field of Dreams thing; if you build it, they will come,” said Mark Kummer, Ashland Christian’s pastor.
In the three years since becoming pastor, Kummer has been teaching his congregation more than scripture. Kummer was a builder for more than 20 years, and although he gave up Kummer Construction last month, he hasn’t been able to put the tools away quite yet. He has turned his congregation into contractors and construction workers.
Every Saturday for the past year, the congregation has held “standing work days.” About a dozen of the 75 regular service attendees would show up and work for the day, breaking for a home-cooked lunch. Others, like John Baker and David Parkes, used their vacation time to perform bigger jobs, such as framing the 8,700 square-foot building and installing the electrical wiring.
“Some people have a special niche for doing things, so they gravitate to that area,” church member Harley Wright said. “Other people like me aren’t good at anything in particular, so we do a little of everything.”
On the last standing work day, Wright, who is in his 70s, sorted screws in the kitchen while other church members worked on installing interior doors. Walter Hogan, who came from Callaway Christian Church, Ashland’s “sister church,” put some finishing touches on the sound system. About noon, they all broke for a lunch of barbecue chicken and pork.
Many of the parishioners were drawn to Ashland Christian because of the intimate feel of a smaller, rural church.
“It’s nice for someone to acknowledge you were there,” said Tammy Cundiff, who has attended Ashland Christian for about five years. “Of all the places you should be welcomed, it should be the church. You don’t get that in every church.”
Cundiff and Diane Foster, both of whom have daughters in high school, bonded this past year over the installation of sheet rock, an endeavor that requires heavy manual labor.
“I have many new skills,” Foster said.
The congregation began worshipping in their new church on July 17 last month, after 10 years of Sundays in the Boone County High School commons.
The theme of the first service was “Holy Ground.” More than 120 people attended, an improvement over their average attendance of 75. Churchgoers heard Kummer’s sermon about how a building is only a building, a place to meet, but a church is made of people. The turnout mirrored that of their first service, in 1995, when members of surrounding churches came to show their support.
“In order to reach out to the community, we need a tool,” Kummer said. “The church building is the tool.”
Melissa Bonderer, community bank president at Southern Boone County Bank, helped the church get a loan for the building and 10 acres of property, which cost $600,000. But most of the money was raised from donations.
“From a banker’s standpoint, we’re extremely impressed with their dedication,” Bonderer said.
Bonderer passes the new church during her daily commute and has taken numerous tours. Her favorite part of the building is something that can’t be seen. Before the carpet was put down in the 200-seat main sanctuary, congregation members wrote their favorite piece of scripture in magic marker on the cement.
Kummer doesn’t know how much time his congregation has spent hammering, painting and building over the past year. He estimates the number of hours contributed to be in the thousands. Parkes, who worked on the walls, said Kummer approached his task as a perfectionist.
“Mark made us redo it if we were an eighth of an inch off,” he said. “I have no idea how we would have put this together without Mark.”
It has been worth it to the church’s members, and, of course, to their pastor.
“People like to tell me they know of another carpenter who was a good preacher,” Kummer said.