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PHOENIX -- A nondenominational church in Payson has been blessed with a gift from a self-sacrificing older congregation -- a new home.

The Expedition Church had been meeting Sundays inside a school cafeteria. "All we really need is a roof over our head and a place to meet, so we've been grateful," Pastor Donovan Christian said, "but we have been looking around for a place that would be more conducive to the kind of ministry that we want to see happen."

Christian said his church had been negotiating with First Southern Baptist Church in Payson about renting space there.

First Southern has been in operation for 51 years but its congregation is aging, and its inability to attract young people has led to declining attendance. Church members there had a decision to make.

"The question was 'If we are declining and our time and our season does need to end, then how is it going to end?' " Christian said. "They decided to end it in a way that was exceedingly generous, thoughtful, kind and loving."

First Southern Pastor Rick Hatch called Donovan to ask, "If we gave you the church, would you take it?" Donovan said, "It was a rare moment for me, because I had no words to speak, and was in shock, literally." He eventually told Hatch yes.

For legal reasons, First Southern sold the property to Expedition for $1. The four-acre site includes the sanctuary, buildings with several meeting rooms, a kitchen with dining area and a house.

Christian announced the deal to his congregation during a Sunday service in April. He played a video that Hatch recorded talking about his church's decision. A celebration broke out among Expedition's congregation.

Last Sunday was Expedition's first service in its new digs. The church seats 300 people but 500 showed up.

"We had people in the foyer, standing against the walls," said Christian. "In the balcony, they were wall to wall in every nook and cranny that we could put people."

Christian said that Expedition may have to add an additional Sunday service to handle the crowds. He is grateful for the donation and is praying that his church will impact Payson the way First Southern Baptist did.

"We're excited to see how God may use that in the future," Christian said.

Bob McClay, Reporter

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