Biblical in scale
Thirteen years ago, they were a cluster of families searching for answers under the pine trees at Mike Nevius’ Nevada City home.
They performed baptisms in his hot tub and held prayer circles in the living room, sharing a quest to return to the Lord.
For the next seven years, the members of what is now Nevada County’s largest congregation drifted like nomadic missionaries between members’ homes, rented rooms at Gold Run Elementary School and, since early 1998, filled the bleachers and hardwood floors inside Grass Valley’s Veterans Memorial Building.
Over the years, members recruited people with a tenuous grip on faith. The church leaders preached a contemporary message fronted by a man whose hardscrabble youth and triumph over personal tragedy made him a perfect fit before the pulpit on Sundays.
Just over a decade later, 1,500 members pack the Veterans Building each week, filling every seat and metal bench to the rafters for two services.
“I’m very proud but very humbled by how far we’ve come,” said Nevius, who broke with six other families from Grass Valley’s First Baptist Church in 1991 to form the foundation of Twin Cities Church. “We’re meeting a need in the community, for people searching for a spiritual awareness.”
Next year, church members plan to congregate in a 41,000-square-foot building on 21.5 acres that Pastor Ron Thompson says will provide a fitting tribute to the area’s foothill heritage while meeting the needs of a rapidly growing congregation.
In 13 years, Twin Cities has become the largest congregation in Nevada County, and it soon will have the largest church building to accommodate an ever-expanding ministry, a building viewed with equal parts of praise and derision by those who see the church’s progress daily.
The planned church near the corner of Rough and Ready Highway and Ridge Road presently resembles a concrete and steel box.
To some residents of the area, the church looks like a monstrosity that seems incongruous next to the clapboard businesses, manzanita patches and rural homes that line the highway a few miles east of the town of Rough and Ready.
“They chose such a beautiful site to put up a big box,” said Rhonda Herrin, who lives a five-minute drive from the church. “From the design, you wouldn’t know if you were in downtown Milwaukee or Las Vegas. They’ve replaced our view with a big giant box and a cement parking lot.”
If people have a problem with the church, “it’s too late to talk about it now,” longtime resident Red Sagraves said recently from the steps of the Rough and Ready Market. “It’s all just five-acre parcels now. We’re no longer a farming community.”
Thompson said the $7 million church will be constructed with a nod to the area’s heritage, including large windows, a fountain in front of the entrance and yellow cedar entrance doors.
“We’ve always felt that church shouldn’t be an out-of-this world experience,” Thompson said. “We feel that when you come to church you should be who you are, not something different.”
Thompson is perhaps most proud of the fact that the church is being constructed without a major fund-raising campaign. Church members were instructed to pray to God to ask how much, if any, they should provide for the building’s construction.
In the end, more than half the money for the building will come from member donations, Thompson said.
“If it’s God’s building, he will provide for it,” Thompson remembers his wife, Kim, telling him a few years ago.
The completion of the church will be the first major building inside the proposed 365-acre Kenny Ranch development.
The church is just one component of the development that could significantly change the physical landscape of the rough-and-tumble town that seceded from the union for two months in 1850 and remains wedded to its outlaw past.
Church leaders purchased the property three years before Kenny Ranch project manager Brian Bisnett proposed his large-scale development, one of four targeted for annexation into Grass Valley over the next decade or so.
“They’ve been good to work with,” Bisnett said of the Twin Cities group. “Architecturally, there’s no real correlation between the two projects.”
That the development and the church are being built in a former hobo encampment once known as “Hell’s Half Acre” provides some delicious irony for members of the church.
“This church is more than just a building,” Thompson said last week as he toured the facility, dodging the bulldozers and open trenches working on the church’s foundation. “This is a place where we’re going to fulfill our dream, our ministry. It’s a change for the good, is my hope,” said Thompson, who grew up learning the Southern Baptist gospel in the Oklahoma panhandle.
“I’m humbled. I feel a sense of deep humility and awe that I can be a part of this.”
It could be the crowning achievement for Thompson, 47, who drifted into a life of drugs as a teen and joined the ministry at the urging of his first wife, who was killed 16 years ago by a drunk driver.
Reaction to the church tilted positive among longtime residents sipping Diet Pepsi and vanilla cokes under the canopy of the Rough and Ready Market Friday afternoon. Some said the church is simply the wheel of progress rolling along.
“That church is God’s will,” said Rough and Ready Market co-owner B.J. Joachim, who doesn’t attend Twin Cities. “There’s a lot of people who need to be saved.
“If the Lord didn’t intend it to be there, it wouldn’t be there,” he said.
“I figure the people over there need a place, and it had to be built somewhere,” said Everett Burkhard, who spends every afternoon under the canopy of the market, chatting with friends. On Sundays, he’s often across the street, strumming a guitar as a member of the Fruit Jar Pickers.
“We’d rather have a place for the Picker Palace,” he joked.
Following an oft-repeated mantra, Thompson urges residents of all stripes to come and discover his ministry, even if they question the size and scope of the building it’s wrapped around.
“In some people’s eyes, this will give us a sense of legitimacy,” he said. “I picture all the people in my neighborhood who don’t have a relationship with God, and I picture them here.”
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