The Living Stones Building stands on the right side of the road as one rides up School Street in French Camp, a constant reminder of an amazing story.
It started, as most great stories do, with an impossibility.
“French Camp Presbyterian Church has needed a larger fellowship hall and more space for Sunday School classes for a long time,” said Alex Coblentz, pastor of FCPC.
The first obstacle was an issue of room. There was nowhere to expand the current church building and the Yazoo clay in the dirt made the foundation unsuitable for a second story to be added to the existing educational building.
Then in 2000, the lot next door to the church went up for sale. The lot contained a house with a grove of pecan trees in the back. The church bought the land and used the house for Sunday School classes for several years.
“In 2008, while I was interviewing with the search committee, (my wife) Mary Nell was visiting with the elders’ wives and they told her then that the church needed more space, especially for a larger Fellowship Hall. It’s been a known need for a long time,” said Coblentz.
The couple did not know it then, but by accepting a call to French Camp Presbyterian Church, they were stepping right into the middle of this story.
While all involved felt the need was legitimate, — especially to better minister to French Camp Academy boarding students who attend the church — the next obstacles felt really large for this small church in a community of around 200. It would take more resources and manpower than they had to build the kind of facility that would meet their needs.
After prayer and much discussion, church elders decided they would not borrow money to build the new facility and would not begin construction until they had raised all the necessary funding to complete the external building.
And when asked about a timeline, the answer was clear: “We will wait until the Lord provides.”
Slowly, doors began to open.
In the beginning of 2012, the pastor and his wife, along with several church leaders, met with a group of retired couples who volunteer with an organization called Mobile Missionary Assistance Program (MMAP). The group travels throughout the country helping churches and ministries and were volunteering at French Camp Academy at the time. These couples understood the vision for the new building and expressed a willingness to help.
In June 2012, the lot was surveyed, and architectural plans were developed by Ken Selden of New York, a retired architect who serves with Mission Tech, a team of faith-motivated professionals whose headquarters are in Longview, Texas.
Time passed. Finally, enough money was raised to get started on the project.
In 2014, the lot was cleared and groundwork on the new building began, but it was not until February 2017, that a groundbreaking ceremony was held.
In August 2017, the concrete was poured and the MMAP volunteers arrived — nearly five years after agreeing to help. They came from across the country and the building started to take shape. In September the first stud wall went up with much celebration. By February 2018, the walls were up and the roof was on the new facility.
“Every day we watched big things happen,” said Mary Nell. “It was a series of one amazing experience after another. At every turn, God supplied the people who could do what we needed. Or people would donate the items we needed. Or He would provide the exact funds we needed to do the next step. It was simply amazing.”
In addition to the MMAP volunteers (later known as VMM, Volunteer Mobile Missionaries), several other mission teams came and along with church members, French Camp Academy staff and students, family and friends, a wide range of people contributed to make the vision a reality.
Roy and Rosemary Purvis hosted and fed the volunteers on numerous occasions. Roy, a deacon at FCPC, has served as the project manager, with assistance from his son Jason, also a deacon. Terry, Jay, and Angie Cauthen, hard workers and gifted builders, served as the local contractors, working alongside the volunteers and keeping the project moving forward between stints by volunteer groups.
Things were moving along when tragedy struck in January 2020. Roy’s wife, Rosemary, passed away unexpectedly, and a few days later, Terry Cauthen was killed in a tragic accident.
Mary Nell describes what happened next.
“We lost our project manager’s wife and our contractor. We were all grieving and in shock. And what did God do? He brought the faithful volunteers back for two weeks, just when we needed tangible support. It was their great joy to help us through that sorrowful, heart wrenching time,” she said.
Alex said the building was named to honor the variety of people and organizations that made the facility a reality.
“We named it the Living Stones Building based on 1 Peter 2:4-6. This isn’t just a building. This is for God’s people to work together on behalf of the Kingdom of God,” he said. “We are living stones. And we want our FCA students and our church family to be like living stones in the ministry of building God’s Kingdom.”
To compliment the name, Alex put his creative talents to use and built a stone wall in front of the building. It took him over a year of working with the stones, cutting each one and fitting it in the right place. To the church community, it serves as a literal picture of what God has done, bringing the right people at the right times in the right ways, orchestrating countless details so that all the glory would go to Him.
French Camp Presbyterian Church will hold a dedication celebration for the new facility at 2 p.m. on Apr. 25. Prior to the dedication service, a video history of the Living Stones Building will be shown at 10 a.m. Worship will be held at 11 a.m., followed by lunch and an informal tour of the building. Those who would like to attend this joyous celebration, should RSVP to firstname.lastname@example.org.