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Church of 50 founded, grounded in CP

WINONA, Minn. (BP) — Darlene Ellingson, a charter member of Cornerstone Community Church in Winona, Minn., recalls a newspaper advertisement in 1968 that led to the church’s founding, and her introduction to the Cooperative Program that has helped the congregation thrive.

“Southern Baptists put an ad in the paper, inviting anyone interested in a Southern Baptist church to meet at a restaurant,” she told Baptist Press. The majority of the five families that attended already knew one another, and were impressed with the structure Southern Baptists offer.

Hearing about the Cooperative Program — Southern Baptists’ giving channel for missions and ministry — at that first meeting made sense to Ellingson. “It’s counterproductive to have missionaries have to return home to raise money so they can go back to the field,” she said. “That’s why some people come to Southern Baptist churches, because of the efficiency of the Cooperative Program.”

Emmanuel Baptist Church in Rochester, which had found its beginnings in the Cooperative Program seven years earlier, helped plant Cornerstone Community Church, also utilizing Cooperative Program funds in the endeavor.

“We were very poor to begin with,” Ellingson said of Cornerstone Community. “We were supported for a few years by Texas churches, but we’ve always given to missions through the Cooperative Program. It might have been 7 percent to start with.”

Today, the church that gives 16 percent of its undesignated income to the Cooperative Program is in the middle of a rebuilding project that will double the church’s size in a new, prime location in neighboring Goodview, while incurring no debt for the congregation of 50 Sunday worshippers.

Ellingson and others describe the funding for the relocation as God’s blessing, realized through the tragic 2007 collapse of the Minneapolis I-35 bridge that killed 13 and injured 145. The Minnesota Department of Transportation’s statewide inspection of the bridge system resulted in the construction of a new bridge in Winona that displaced a nearby car dealership.

The dealership had other property adjacent to Cornerstone Community Church’s then 3.5 acre-site in Winona. In order for the congregation to relocate, the church decided to sell the dealership their property for an amount equal to the purchase of land in Goodview. The deal with the dealership also included the cost of renovation and new construction at the new site, said building committee chairman Glenn Sanders.

The facility in Goodview that the church purchased had been a liquor store, Sanders said, adding with a chuckle, “We decided God wanted a new Spirit there.”

When completed by June, the church will consist of five Sunday school classrooms, restrooms with showers for work teams that come to minister in Minnesota or Wisconsin, two offices, a spacious fellowship hall and a worship center that will accommodate 200 people, doubling the capacity of the previous sanctuary built nearly 40 years ago with the help of Texas Baptist Men.

David Vanzant of Dixon, Mo., has pastored the church since early March on a bivocational basis.

“The church is at a point right now with great potential,” Vanzant said. “The atmosphere is charged with high excitement…. That’s what we’re about, getting the Lord’s name known as much as we can. The Cooperative Program helps with that.”

Cornerstone Community Church has displayed a heart for missions through the years.

In 1996, the church opened its building to a fledgling Hmong Baptist Mission, which as recently as 2013 gave 10 percent of its undesignated offerings to missions through the Cooperative Program, though the congregation disbanded in 2014 when members left the area.

Ten years ago, a Winona charter school had lost its building and was meeting that fall at picnic tables in a park, Sanders said.

“We told them we have a church building we don’t use during the week, that they — like the Hmong congregation — could use rent-free,” Sanders said. “They stayed a couple of years before they were able to buy their own building.”

In addition to its financial support of the Pioneer Baptist Association’s director of missions and a dozen other missionaries, Cornerstone Community’s major international missions outreach is the Samaritan’s Purse Christmas Shoebox ministry.

“We give [church member shoppers] $500 early in the year for them to buy items as they go on sale, and give them more if they run out,” Sanders said. “Then, in later October, they make up the boxes in an assembly line. Last year we had 576 boxes, and it’s been more than 500 for several years.”

Ellingson expressed her appreciation for the church’s missions emphasis.

“We’re following God’s instruction,” she said. “The members now have more of a vision than ever before, for the mission field surrounding the new church property,” she continued. “There are several subdivisions that have real good outreach potential.”