Calvary Church will celebrate its move to the former Maumee 18 theaters with three grand opening services Sunday morning (Jan. 6).
The distance between the old Calvary on Glendale Avenue and the new one on Conant Street measures just 2.3 miles, but the change in scene is as dramatic as some of the Hollywood cliffhangers that used to fill the screens at the ex-cineplex.
“As a church we weren’t looking to make a geographic move. It wasn’t something we had put on our master plan,” said Rev. Chad Gilligan, lead pastor. “But we felt when the building became available, there was a leading from God for us to look into the purchase of it. We took one step after another and felt the Lord kept opening the doors for us, so we kept walking through them. We felt we were being obedient to God’s will.”
The old Calvary, on Glendale just east of Reynolds Road, held its worship services in a traditional 1,100-seat sanctuary with padded pews and a large stained-glass window behind the altar.
The new Calvary, whose 18 theaters and expansive atrium cover 93,000 square feet, is holding worship services in a 525-seat converted movie theater.
The new facility, which sits on a 33.5-acre site across Conant Street from an Urban Active fitness center, features a café that offers free coffee plus the sale of snacks, soft drinks and specialty drinks such as mochas, lattes and chai tea. Café proceeds go toward 160 local, national and international missions projects Calvary supports.
Gilligan, 40, has been on staff at Calvary for 14 years and has been lead pastor for eight years. The new location gives the church added visibility, he said, and the building’s history makes it appealing to many people in the Toledo area.
“We hear over and over from people who have had memories in this building. They went on their first date here, or saw their favorite movie here. The curiosity and the appeal of this building go beyond the norm,” he said.
The former movie theater was built in 1997 ("Titanic" played during opening week) and it was one of four local cineplexes bought by Dallas-based Rave Motion Pictures in January, 2010.
Rave closed the Maumee 18 in June, 2010, citing a surplus of screens in the Toledo area, and Calvary purchased it for $2.98 million in December, 2010.
Dan VanderVlucht, 49, of Perrysburg, a member of the church’s deacon board who grew up attending Calvary, said he was hesitant at first about buying the movie complex.
“I wasn’t totally on board with the whole thing. I guess I was trying to figure out why we’d want to move down the street when we had a building that was already paid for,” he said.
But things changed after Gilligan invited the board to go to the property and pray shortly after the theater went up for sale.
“Pastor said let’s go over and pray and ask for God’s guidance and direction. Before praying, he said, ‘It looks like an impossibility, guys, but we should pray about it.’ And [board member] Larry Joyner said, ‘Nothing’s impossible with God.’ That kind of hit me. My take was, ‘I don’t think it’s necessary.’ But that doesn’t mean God doesn’t want to do it.”
VanderVlucht said he had to “step back and stop looking at it through my own eyes.”
“If God wants to do this, he’ll make it all work. It’s not about what I want, it’s about what God wants to do through us if we’re willing,” he said.
Calvary put in an offer to buy the theater and “God kept opening the doors,” VanderVlucht said.
The church, which has an average Sunday attendance of more than 1,000, spent its $1.5 million remodeling budget to update the atrium with new carpeting and a central fireplace area, adding a new café, and placing seating areas throughout the building. Theater seats were removed from the floor section of the largest theater to make room for a stage, and a Chicago firm designed and installed high-tech sound, video and lighting for the sanctuary.
An adjacent theater serves as an overflow room, with live video and audio from the main service. If Sunday morning services reach their capacity in the near future, Calvary may use other theaters to offer different worship-music styles, such as traditional hymns or more youth-oriented music, Gilligan said.
The $1.5 million remodeling budget, which was the amount Calvary raised in a two-year building program, focused on the main sanctuary and atrium as well as the children’s and youth ministry areas.
The renovations were scaled down from the original plans that called for knocking down walls between two theaters to create one large sanctuary. That project will be included in an as-yet unscheduled Phase 2.
“We’ve been able to touch quite a bit of the building with just basic things that needed to be done, primarily electrical, lighting and technology,” Gilligan said. “We feel really good about the first phase because it gets us in the building and allows us to use it and figure out how this church can best serve the church and the community.”
Another change for Calvary is a shortened name, having dropped the name of its denominational affiliation, Assembly of God, when it moved. It still belongs to the Assemblies of God, one of the largest Protestant Pentecostal denominations in the world. The AG was founded in 1914 and has 3 million members in the United States and 65 million worldwide.
“In our culture, labels for churches don’t mean as much as they used to,” Gilligan said. “What we’ve found is that no matter what your church brand is, it can have a tendency to tell people not what you are, but what they aren’t. … We decided to make the brand less of a big deal so we’ll be able to have more people come and check us out. Nothing has changed in our theology or our practice.”
Calvary was founded in 1951 in East Toledo and moved several times before building the church on Glendale in 1984. The congregation paid off its mortgage in November, 2008, and the Glendale property is now up for sale.
VanderVlucht said he has two main hopes for Calvary’s future.
“First, I think the church is going to attract a certain number of people who don’t typically go to church. I think the building itself will do that,” he said. “But the other thing is that I hope that it will change each person who attends Calvary. As Christians, I just hope and pray that it will open our eyes to new opportunities to share our faith.”
Grand Opening services will be held at 8:30, 10 and 11:30 a.m. Sunday (Jan. 6) at Calvary Church, 1360 Conant St., Maumee. More information is available online or by calling the church, 419-381-0254.
[Editor’s Note: David Yonke is a member of Calvary Church.]