Formerly named Stone's Throw, the church is planning its first service in new 20,000-square-foot building next to Westown Movies on Commerce Drive off of U.S. Route 301
Almost nine years ago, a new church congregation held its first service in Middletown at Appoquinimink High School with about 150 people.
On Sunday, Feb. 3, the group which now numbers about 350 will hold the first service in its new 20,000-square-foot, $2 million building in Westown off of U.S. Route 301 in Middletown. The 6.5-acre site on Commerce Drive next to Westown Movies cost $1.05 million in 2012 and required about $800,000 in site work.
The congregation, initially called Stone’s Throw, has changed its name to The Town, coinciding with the opening of its new home.
Rev. Dan Betters, lead pastor, said raising the funds and building the church wouldn’t have been possible without the grace of God and the contributions of many people and businesses.
“The church had to raise $550,000 for the land in under six months for a down payment which they did. We paid off the land in three years so we could begin construction,” said Betters.
Then the congregation received an incredible offer from church members, contractors Paul Palmer and his son Jon Palmer of Bay Country Associates.
“The Palmers committed to building the church for no profit,” said Betters.
Jon Palmer said the building was constructed for $2 million but would have cost about $3.5 million to $4 million at market rates.
“When we presented the plan to our subcontractors, they got behind us. Without them, it wouldn’t have been possible,” he said.
For Jon Palmer, the completion of the church is a special milestone.
“I came down nine years ago when we started meeting at Appoquinimink High School. I was 16. Dan [Betters] was my youth pastor at our old church. Now working to build the new church, I’m excited to see it come full circle,” Palmer said. “It’s been a long road – a lot of trips to Middletown. Finishing is a sigh of relief. It’s all been good, but it’s been a journey.”
Ground was broken in October 2016.
Betters said the unique arrangement with the contractors and subcontractors meant sometimes having to wait until they had free time to work on the project. After all, they had to make a profit on their other jobs so they could work on the church at cost, but it was worth the wait.
“It’s just incredible that they were willing to do this and share our vision,” Betters said.
Meanwhile, a small army of volunteers has been moving furniture and equipment.
“I don’t have to beg them to do anything,” said Betters. “They’re passionate about it. They’re the ones who ask me, ‘When can we help?’”
Betters said he’s ecstatic and also humbled by the completion of the project.
“It’s overwhelming to see God at work,” he said. “It’s been almost nine years. We’ve been portable for so long, always moving all of our stuff each week. We’re tired but rejuvenated because now we have our own space.”
The front doors of the new building open to a lobby and gathering area with a fireplace featuring a mantel that’s a beam reclaimed from an old farmhouse in Middletown. The look is sort of “industrial-rustic,” Betters said, with concrete floors and exposed ventilation system and roof beams, but with old-fashioned touches like the mantel and doors from old buildings.
The lobby leads straight into the 437-seat sanctuary which features a 1,200 square-foot stage and state-of-the-art lighting installed by the electrical contractor who is a member of the church.
“He did a fantastic job,” said Betters.
The congregation plans to offer the facility for community uses, such as for a school that doesn’t have a large enough stage for performances. The seating in the sanctuary can be rearranged, and tables can be brought in for weddings or awards banquets.
To the right of the lobby are offices. To the left of the lobby is the wing with classrooms, the nursery and a room that seats about 75 for the youth group or other meetings.
And this is just “phase one,” Betters said.
The congregation plans to build one addition for more offices and more children’s programs, a second addition for a professional counseling center and support groups, and finally, a wedding garden.
In the beginning
Stone’s Throw Church held its first service April 11, 2010 at Appoquinimink High School.
The new congregation was started by Reach Church in Bear, a member of the Presbyterian Church in America.
“Our mission statement is to discover and participate fully in God’s plan and purpose for our lives,” said Betters who was an associate pastor at Reach and before that, the youth pastor. “Our guiding principles and goals are what make us different. We don’t think church is a club. We don’t think it’s a place that you go to. We believe that the church is a group of people who love and follow after Jesus. This means that every area of life is affected by what we believe. We love others because Jesus first loved us. We meet others’ needs because God has met all of our needs. We don’t go to church; we are the church.”
Reasons for the name change
The name “Stone’s Throw” came from a Bible verse in the book of Luke describing Jesus walking a stone’s throw from his disciples, Betters said.
“It was when Jesus was at his lowest point, just before he would die on the cross,” said Betters. “We wanted to be close to our town, just a stone’s throw away. The congregation understood the significance, but it was hard to explain to people. A lot of people would jokingly say, ‘Are you going to stone people?’”
There’s also a well-known passage in the Bible along the lines of “Let he among you without sin cast the first stone.”
“People would say, ‘Are you throwing stones?’” Betters said.
The new name, “The Town,” better conveys the congregation’s message, he said.
“We want to be part of our community, our town, so we look for ways to be involved with our town rather than always making the town come to us,” he said.
The new location reflects that idea.
“We could have bought property outside of town at a lower price, but we wanted to be right here in town where people are shopping, going out to eat and going to work,” he said. “We want to be close to where people are living their lives.”
At services, Betters and the other church leaders try to offer messages that are relevant to everyday life.
“We preach and teach what the Bible says and we don’t skip over the hard stuff. I think that is a reason many people come back because we’re up front and authentic,” Betters said. “We want to know what truth is and what it means to us. But truth without love is just arrogance. So we preach the truth in love, and I think that is another reason why people come back. This church loves people really well no matter what background, race, ethnicity or belief system we come from. Love without truth is just sentimentality and not authentic. So we look for both – truth from the Scriptures, love for God and others.”
Services and programs
Sunday worship is at 10:30 a.m., with Kids Club at the same time for children in kindergarten through fifth grade, along with a nursery and childcare for infants through pre-school.
“Music’s a big part of what we do here,” said Betters. “We have all modern music. We’re very rock and roll, but sometimes we’ll take older hymns that everyone knows and modernize them.”
He said programs are sensitive to families with special needs.
“We built a quiet room attached to our main sanctuary with really big windows overlooking the sanctuary for families with children who have sensory needs or special needs. They can still see the service and hear through a speaker and they can feel a part of the whole congregation,” Betters said.
The stage is handicapped accessible.
The youth group for junior and senior high meets on Sundays right after the worship service.
Four times a year, the church offers six-week educational classes for all ages.
Every week there are 12 community groups that meet in people’s homes in Middletown, Odessa, Townsend, Bear, Newark and Cecil County, Maryland.
“Out of these groups come hundreds of opportunities to hang out, take trips together and generally do life together,” said Betters.
The church also offers support groups for grief counseling, divorce care and single-parenting support.
“We offer pastoral counseling for many other tough situations that people may find themselves in,” Betters said.