- Associated Press - Monday, July 4, 2016

WACO, Texas (AP) - A downtown Waco church hopes to transform an old county fallout shelter into a sanctuary.

Acts Church pastors David and Kim Booker said the congregation plans to raise $1.7 million to transform the 17,000-square-foot warehouse next door to the church at 300 S. 13th St. The church bought the warehouse eight years ago when it moved from Steinbeck Bend Drive, before the downtown area began to boom with redevelopment.

Instead of tearing the concrete building down and starting over, the Bookers said they feel called to transform the structure that served as a nuclear fallout shelter into a different kind of shelter for the community.

“Just where people can run to for safety from storms of everyday life, not just physical storms, but spiritual, emotional,” Kim Booker told the Waco Tribune-Herald (http://bit.ly/296KNbc). “I feel like what the Lord is doing with the sanctuary next door is a picture of what he wants to do with the whole community - not destroy it and demolish it and tear it down and get rid of it but he really wants to revive places. I feel like a picture of what we want to do here is a picture of the community as a whole.”

At the height of the Cold War, McLennan County developed a nuclear fallout plan in July 1967, which included the building at 13th Street and Mary Avenue, the duo said.

The renovation project, which will be done by local firm RBDR Architects, will give the congregation room to grow from its 350 members to more than 800. The church holds two worship services, except during the summer months when students leave town and just one service is offered. Without room for expansion, more services would have to be added to accommodate growth.

David Booker, who was born in Waco, said the congregation originally moved to central Waco to bring the neighborhood a really great church. The couple also bought a home two blocks from the church in an effort to worship with the community and not at the community.

“We’re just at the place now we really felt like the Lord said, ‘It’s time to get moving on it,’” David Booker said. “The main reason is that we feel strongly that this is where God told us to be and we’ve never been able to escape that - that this is what he said.”

Plans for the sanctuary include bringing the congregation closer with chairs surrounding a circular stage in the center of the room, instead of a stage up front.

Kim Booker said she thinks the design will create more of a feeling of participating than spectating and will reduce the amount of staring at the back of heads.

“In quiet time I feel like the Lord just kind of showed me a picture and said, ‘This is what I want it to represent, that I’m the center.’ Everything revolves around him,” she said.

The sanctuary in use now will be transformed into 10 children’s classrooms, freeing up the upstairs of the church for youth ministry.

“Right now it’s kind of a maze around here,” David Booker said.

The largest project cost is funding electrical, plumbing, and heating, ventilation and air conditioning for the warehouse, he said. The church will maintain the industrial feel of the warehouse, keep most of the pillars in place and add soundproofing. David Booker said sermons are often interrupted by the blast of train horns on the nearby railroad track.

“Right now, the train goes by right in the middle of a sermon, and you have to stop,” he said.

David Booker said the congregation is spending time in prayer on raising the money and then will move forward collecting the funds.

“Everyone’s really excited,” he said. “Usually you expect some negative feedback, and we didn’t get any.”

He said some of the church’s biggest donors are individuals who don’t attend the church but support what they do.

“Ultimately, it’s got to be for us, just trusting God,” he said. “We don’t have money inside the church. We’re trusting the Lord. We’re a debt-free church. We own the building. We won’t do this until we have all the money.”

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Information from: Waco Tribune-Herald, http://www.wacotrib.com

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