EGG HARBOR TOWNSHIP — Abby Pease used to arrive at 6:45 a.m. Sunday mornings at the Regal Hamilton Commons in Mays Landing to set up two movie theaters for Fusion Church services that started at 10 a.m.
“You are putting all the sound together, running wires, setting up drum kits. You are literally doing all the setup, all the lighting. Video projectors have to come out,” said Pease, 33, who added they set up a second theater for children’s services. “Our volunteers, they were crazy. They were there building a tabernacle, building a church, every week.”
No one complained because doing the work gave the volunteers ownership, and they were able to see what their contribution accomplished, but every week, they were rushing to break everything down, Pease said.
“We were doing the end of the service, and (movie) previews would come on,” said Pease, a worship leader with the church.
After three years at the Regal, the worship team musicians and singers can now sleep a little bit later on Sunday mornings.
The nondenominational Fusion Church opened Sept. 22 in a new, high-profile location inside the former Diamond Furniture building on the Black Horse Pike.
This location was selected because Fusion’s original location in Somers Point had run out of space, and the majority of the worshipers were driving from the township, Lead Pastor Brendon Wilson said.
The purchase of the land and the structure, the conversion of the building into a church and the construction of the parking lot were part of a $4.3 million project, which Wilson said was a good deal. If the church was built from scratch from the ground up, it would have cost between $12 and $14 million, according to the general contractor, Mike Chambers, owner of Modus Construct & Consult.
The Somers Point site is still in operation and is the only place to attend Saturday services. The Regal is no longer used.
Practically, it is easier for the worship team to just plug in and go at the start and not have to pack up everything at the end at the new spot, Pease said. The new church is nicer than the movie theater, but they both felt like home, she said.
“What is so cool about Pastor Brendon and Pastor Danielle’s vision and what they taught us is it doesn’t matter what building we are in, we are just worshiping,” Pease said. “It’s not really about where we are inside. It’s about the people around us.”
The strategic renovation of the Diamond Furniture building from a mercantile location to an assembly space started February of last year, Chambers said.
The building was close to 40 years old, but it only had two bathrooms on the first floor on a septic system. It now has 31 toilets and urinals on public sewer and water, Chambers said.
There were only 58 parking spaces for the Diamond Furniture store, but by purchasing the adjacent lot to the west, they were able to have enough space for a total of 271 parking spaces, Chambers said.
Instead of the front entrance to the church facing the Black Horse Pike, Chambers and his crew had to carve out space from an existing wall to create enough room for three pairs of doors facing the parking area, Chambers said.
“It was a bigger job with a lot of moving parts,” said Chambers, who added it took 24 months of approvals for a 9-foot deceleration lane to enter the property off the Black Horse Pike traveling west.
The original plan was to start having services in the building last December, but because there was more rain here last year than in Seattle, Washington, the occupancy was delayed nine months, Chambers said.
One of the major reasons the former Diamond Furniture was chosen as the place for a new Fusion Church was the convenience of its location off a major road when people are traveling from as far away as Millville, Vineland and Cherry Hill, Camden County, Wilson said.
The Somers Point location is only 1,350 square feet. With 40,000-square-feet here, Fusion Church was looking for a facility that could house its future growth and also handle community outreach and community assistance programs, Wilson said.
“During Hurricane Sandy (in 2012), we housed multiple recovery teams,” Wilson said about the Somers Point church. “We wanted to find a place that would not just be a church on Sunday mornings, but a community center during the week,” Wilson said.