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New River, home at last

LAKE WYLIE -- The last time the congregation met on these grounds, they were worshiping in the wilderness. But Sunday brings a new day at New River Community Church -- one six years and several stops in the making.

"It's been a long time coming," said Jesse Bowles, associate minister. "If we're going to start a church in Lake Wylie, there's not a spot that could be better."

On Sunday, New River will hold its first service in its new, 14,000-square-foot facility at 133 Carroll Cove Road, seen off S.C. 49.

The path toward the new building has been anything but uneventful, from the first services being held in a former video poker hall to the Crowders Creek schools and most recently, a school building vacated last year by another church. Then there was the service about a year ago held at the future site of the current building -- in the woods.

"The building's not the goal," Bowles said. "We've met in every open space in town. It's not about the building, but it'll be nice not to have to load up the trailer every time when we're done."

Arthur Mace, church pastor, calls the new building a tool, not "a means to an end."

Inside a large foyer greets members, and then there is the sanctuary and several rooms for children and small groups, along with the "essentials."

"You've got to have bathrooms or people will get real concerned about what you're doing," Mace joked.

The main entrance also features what will become a fully-functioning coffee shop, complete with televisions. The shop will be open on Fridays and Sundays at first, Mace said, but eventually could be open five or six days each week. More building is planned at the 25-acre tract of land along S.C. 49 that could triple the size of the new facility. Construction could resume as early as fall, Mace said.

"We're not done at this point," he said. "We're just getting started."

Eventually, Mace would like to see the building become a seven-day community center. After borrowing meeting space "from everybody in town" the past six years, New River leaders understand how important it is to share facilities. Plus, welcoming outsiders into the doors at New River is always the goal, Bowles said.

"We believe we're blessed by God to bless the community," he said. "We want to reach people who are unreached. That's pretty much the deal."

But having its own building also presents new challenges, including rerouting a truckload of new furniture mistakenly delivered to Lake Wylie Christian Assembly and explaining the new church location "across from Wendy's." But the most important challenge is keeping up with a changing, growing fellowship.

"Most of our crowd is 30s and 40s," Mace said. "We have some people who are older than that, some people who are younger than that. In the last couple of months, we have seen a lot more people in their 20s."

The church size has doubled in the past four months, Mace said.

Mace and Bowles admit to being a little nervous with the new location, and plan to keep the same approach that has blessed New River so far.

"We want to do things that help embrace people's understanding of the Bible," Mace said.

New River is a nondenominational fellowship featuring a contemporary worship that is "not typical pews and an organ type of deal." It also is a fellowship that hopes to reach out to the needs of its community.

"One of the reasons people move to Lake Wylie is for the quality of the schools," Mace said. "That tells me that they care about their children. We want to help them by having the best children's ministry possible."

The first services on the new building will be "pretty much what we usually do on a Sunday," Mace said, though a dedication or opening service could come later. Service times are 9 a.m. and 11 a.m. each Sunday, with special lessons for preschoolers and elementary-aged children during each. For more information, call the church at (803) 831-8800 or visit