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DURANT, IOWA: Former eye-care clinic lifts parishioners' eyes even higher

DURANT, IOWA: Former eye-care clinic lifts parishioners' eyes even higher

By Leon Lagerstam
March 12, 2016

Ever since the 2009 breakup of the U.S. Episcopal Church and American Anglicans, St. David's Church in Durant has gathered at a community center and a nearby Methodist Church.

By Easter, the Anglican Church in North America congregation hopes to change all that and open its eyes to a new church they call their own -- without seeing any indebtedness.

Church leaders bought and are converting the former Courtney Eye Care building at 409 8th Ave., Durant. It also was a feed store in the mid-1960s and a restaurant/tavern, according to church pastor the Rev. John Spencer.

At one time, the Rev. Spencer was vicar general, diocesan standing committee president and media officer of the Quincy Episcopal Diocese. He recently completed "Solarium Trilogy" stories about researchers sealed inside a science complex to see if life can survive in a completely closed, man-made environment.

The Rev. Spencer said he opted to return to being a "simple parish priest" after the politically charged church split.

"Many Quad-Citians make the drive to Durant to attend services, he said. "We're a 40-member congregation. We're tiny, but I felt God gave me a sign that St. David's was going to have its own church. His hand has definitely been in this from the start."

Rev. Spencer said he came to the Durant church a year after the Anglican-Episcopal split, "beyond the point" of any sore feelings caused by the schism. The church began a capital campaign that raised $220,000 in six weeks. The congregation bought three acres of land on Iowa 6 just east of Durant, where it someday plans to build a new church, Rev. Spencer said.

"But a new church would have cost between $500,000 and $1 million, so we didn't have enough," he said.

Parishioners noticed a small "for sale" sign in the yard of the Courtney Eye Clinic and learned the eye doctor was trying to sell the property on her own without going through Realtors. She and church leaders agreed to a price and renovation began.

About 80 percent of the work has been done by building committee chairman Harvey Dittmer and a team of up to 20 volunteers, Rev. Spencer said. Tri-County Builders, of Durant, helped on some of the bigger projects requiring tradesmen, such as installing 38-foot ceiling trusses that span from wall to wall.

The sanctuary area will be able to seat about 100 people, the Rev. Spencer said. A large commons room will be able to be opened up to accommodate more people. It also will have space for Sunday school rooms and offices.

An insurance company agent also maintains an office on site, the Rev. Spencer said.

"It's not a huge building," he said. "But it will allow us to keep growing and, in 10 years or so, we will look to build on the land we bought.

"This takes the pressure off of us building on the three-acre lot when it might not be possible to pay for it all," he said. "This is actually a Godsend.

"People may naturally wonder what we are going to do with this building when we build our new church," the Rev. Spencer said. "We're thinking about making it some kind of youth center to give area youth somewhere to go and something to do."

He said church members previously met at the Durant Community Center before it became too hectic. The church relocated services to Walcott United Methodist Church and hopes to be in its new home at the corner of 5th Street and 8th Avenue by Good Friday or Easter Sunday.

A new fiberglass steeple from Alabama, bought by a parishioner, was put in place earlier in the week. Its height had to be toned down a bit because city ordinance restricts objects exceeding 35 feet, the Rev. Spencer said.

But there's no telling the true heights St. David's will be able to reach as a church.


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