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It wasn't too long ago that a small group of 11 islanders decided they needed a non-denominational church in which to gather and worship. This group took turns holding worship services in their homes until they exceeded their capacity.

The congregation asked for permission to meet in the Capri Community Center, hired a part-time clergy to lead them and enjoyed the peace and tranquility of island worship with families, friends and neighbors.

The record of their first meeting in the Community Center began with these opening lines written by charter member Joe Leadabrand. "It was a beautiful Sunday Morning on November 13, 1977 when Capri Christian Church met in the Capri Community Center Building. There were 11 people that first day. A rather simple but complete service, including communion, marked that first meeting."

Among them were the late Isles of Capri developer A. L."Doc"Loach and his wife, Rosanna. The congregation quickly outgrew this facility as well and decided it was time to build a real church.

The church has continued to grow through the years. Now parking is an issue and the church is taking steps to find solutions.

On April 30, the church closed on the purchase of two additional residential lots close to the church. These have been rezoned through Collier County for non-residential use as overflow parking areas.

Original building

In March 1982, land on residential Island 2 was purchased and land preparation began for the original structure.

There were 43 members present when the cornerstone of the original building was laid on July 25 that same year. Glen and Betty Dials are the only two remaining among the members of the congregation today.

In the late 1990s, the church continued to outgrow their existing walls. They purchased additional land and added a large educational/social building to provide for their 300 members in the early 2000s.

Attendees continue to come from Isles of Capri, Marco Island, Naples, East Naples, Goodland, Everglade City, and all points north of here. An empty residential lot on the corner of East Hilo Street was also purchased for overflow parking.

In 2011 it was obvious that there was not sufficient seating for the ever-growing congregation and guests. Therefore, more expansion began. The walls of the existing sanctuary were pushed out and rearranged over a two-year construction period to provide seating capacity for 550. When the dedication ceremony was held on the weekend of Sunday, Feb. 24, 2013, hordes of people gathered and there was a wealth of excitement.

Pastor Curt Ayers' main thrust during the dedication ceremony then was for people to remember that the church was not a building made up of brick and mortar, but a body of believers.

"God owns the building, and that he gifts it to believers as a place for them to come and worship, learn, grow and rebuild their relationship with God," said Ayers. "This is in keeping with the thrust of the original charter membership. The new building was paid for through donations from the congregation in a little less than two-years, and in spite of tough economic times.

"God's people heard that call, and rose to the occasion," said Ayers.

Hurdle

Seating capacity has not been the only aspect of the church that has felt the growing pains. Parking became a major hurdle to cross. In an attempt to provide seating and parking, additional services were held on Saturday and Sunday.

Volunteers used their personal golf carts to shuttle attendees from their cars parked elsewhere on Capri's business isle. Even all of these intermediary solutions have not been enough to keep up with the growth of attendees.

The new parking solution will not be paved lots, but landscaped and laid out as a parking area. In addition to these two lots, a couple who are members of the church also purchased a house adjacent to the church on East Hilo and donated it for additional parking use.

"This summer, the house will be demolished, and the three lots will be converted to parking areas prior to the arrival of our members returning next season," Ayers announced with an air of joy and excitement at Sunday's services this week. Ayers has been pastor for 21 years.

Contact Ann Hall at ahall7911@comcast.net.

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