Fla. Church Ditches Plans for New Building; Blesses City With Park

A fast-growing church in Florida had a plan to construct a new worship auditorium but when it learned about the problems the residents of its city were facing, it changed its focus to constructing a community park to demonstrate that it cares.

"Even though we've outgrown our current facility, we canceled our plans for a new worship center," said Lead Pastor Wes Furlong of Cape Christian Fellowship in Cape Coral, Fla., the largest Mennonite church in the United States. "Instead, we're building a park where families can gather, play, attend concerts and community events," added the pastor in a statement.

Originally, the church was planning on a new 1,700-seat auditorium that would have cost at least $15 million to build. But church leaders spent the past year meeting authorities to assess the needs of the community and learned that hunger, violence, drug abuse and poverty had plagued the city. And the congregation wanted to help.

The 100,000 square-foot facility will be known as Fellowship Park and costs about $300,000. It will be open to the public and will include the city's first amphitheater, a splash pad, four children's playgrounds, sports and multi-purpose fields, common areas, zip line, jogging trail, pavilion and cafe. It will be funded, built and maintained by the church. Cape Christian Fellowship is also launching a community-wide campaign, "Not in My City," providing resources to families facing hunger, homelessness and poverty.

"We have met with Cape Christian's leadership and are moving forward with the permitting and approval process for Fellowship Park," North Fort Myers Neighbor quoted interim City Manager and Director of Parks and Recreation Steve Pohlman as saying. "This park would provide a venue with ample parking, lighting and other amenities that do not currently exist in the City of Cape Coral. No city tax dollars will be used for this park, and we consider it a generous and much-needed gift to our city."

The 25-year-old church with more than 1,400 worshippers is also providing resources to help families who have lost homes or jobs. "We are a church that exists for our city," Pastor Furlong said. "It's alarming that 350 children are homeless in our city. Assessing the community's needs was sobering and led us to turn our attention outside the walls of our church."

Cape Christian Fellowship has doubled its attendance in five years and created more than 20 ministries for the city, including a mentoring program for young mothers and a state-approved character curriculum in public schools. Through the "Feeding Cape Coral" program, the church stocks food pantries with more than 25,000 items. The church is also recruiting volunteers aiming at one million volunteer hours within public schools.

Additionally, Cape Christian Fellowship plans to launch the Center for Family Life to create multi-media resources for parents, married couples, and people with addictions and other life-controlling issues.

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