The little church on the prairie
Pastor Eddie Johnson Jr. points to a filing cabinet that was recently donated to his church and says, "Everything here — the donations, renovations and church itself — has been a blessing."
Johnson is the pastor of People's Temple church on East Court Street in Rutherfordton. Last year he was given a set of four keys to the small church built in 1945. When he first saw the building, he nicknamed it the "little church on the prairie."
Four months ago Johnson opened the church doors to share his vision of the church and its purpose in the community.
"God presented this opportunity for me to pastor in this community," Johnson said. "I saw all the work that needed to be done before our first service and thought, 'It's going to be a faith walk.'"
Many items, materials and services that have been part of the church's renovations were donated and contributed by people in the community and local businesses. This included supplies for the upgraded men's and women's bathrooms, a fully functioning kitchen in the basement and a pastor's study with donated desks.
Local businesses also offered products and services to the church at reduced rates. Rutherford Heating and Air set up monthly installment payments for the church's new furnace and Earthwise Builders took 20 percent off for bringing the church's doors up to code.
One of the first renovations was the back focus wall inside the sanctuary, the church's focal point, which Johnson calls the faith wall. The wall needed insulation, sheetrock, plywood and materials costing upwards of $500. Workers offered their services for free in agreement that the church purchased the necessary supplies.
"When we look at that faith wall, we see it as encouragement and faith and a way to renovate the rest of the church," Johnson said.
Family friends even stepped in and paid the church's mortgage, light and water bills for the first three months.
"There was so much we had to do to prepare for that first service, so that we could open the church doors," Johnson said.
Six people were supposed to attend that first service. Instead, 45 showed up. Today the church has 42 official members, yet every week visitation exceeds 100.
"Many people are excited to see that the doors of their childhood church have reopened," Johnson said.
Several people have asked him about the name of the church and whether he plans to change it. It was previously called the People's Temple CME Church, and Johnson decided to keep part of the original name and call it the People's Temple.
"I like the church to be for the people. I want the church to be for the people," Johnson said.
Johnson has no intentions on removing the church's cornerstone bearing its original name.
While the church does have its challenges with having a young congregation and monitoring its finances that come with the renovations, Johnson sees a promising future.
The faith wall was phase one of the sanctuary renovations and Johnson plans to make the back of the sanctuary and entryway phase two. The church still has its original roof, steeple and cast iron bell, all of which Johnson hopes to restore.
"I want to come in and be able to ring that bell once the church has been fully restored," Johnson said.
The church is also planning to have a booth at MayFest next month and will distribute free bottled water as an opportunity to meet and greet members of the community.
"We are excited to use this as a way to solicit friendship, fellowship and support," Johnson said.
For Johnson, his little church on the prairie has been God's blessing.
"It amazes me how people in the community have come back to support the church," Johnson said. "My hope is to raise the church up for people in the community. The best is yet to come for People's Temple."