A fresh snowfall deadens the noise outside New Creations International Church. But inside the sanctuary, voices of the “praise and worship team” quickly bring the Sunday church service to life.
The three-woman team in the charismatic Christian church belt out gospel hymns that have the congregation on its feet, clapping and moving.
“There is power in the name of Jesus,” Larissa Taylor, clutching a microphone at the center of the altar, sings during one religious anthem. “There’s an army rising up to break every chain”
The energy in the red-brick building at 2929 Court St. on the east side of Iowa City masks signs that New Creations is a church in transition. Just weeks earlier, New Creations found itself without a home, and had several pieces not lined up just so, the congregation would have been homeless for the holidays instead of with a new foundation.
“It was a miracle,” Gwen Smith, the pastor’s wife, said of ending up with the building when the decks seemed so stacked against them.
New Creations, a non-denominational faith that links its beliefs to a literal interpretation of the Bible, had been leasing space since 2007 at 921 Third Ave., about a mile away. Grace Community Church, the property owner of the Third Avenue building, announced it was selling the property when the lease expired in early November.
Leaders of New Creations, which was growing and at about 75 percent capacity, already had considered moving to a bigger space.
New Creation members had their eyes on the handsome building with a sprawling lawn on Court Street, which had been vacant since Hope United Methodist Church left in 2011. At twice the size of the Third Avenue building, it seemed like the ideal place to grow the ministry.
A photo of the Court Street building was displayed on promotional cards for a new building fund, and members of the congregation visited the parking lot to pray for God’s guidance.
The initial listing price was too expensive, though, and later a sale was pending to another buyer.
The real estate market continued to be unfriendly. Other potential destinations were either too much or not a good fit.
New Creations believed they had a fallback plan with the Third Avenue building, only to discover in the 11th hour its owners were accepting another offer.
That’s how, on Nov. 6, New Creations found itself without a lease, on the move and nowhere to go.
“To honest with you, we just prayed,” Pastor Anthony Smith recalled. “It was a very humbling moment. I was very confident God was going to do something, I just didn’t know what.
“I was very calm. I just knew God didn’t bring us this far to leave us, and so we just committed that time to prayer, and we got our answer.”
And the church carried on.
First Assembly of God in Iowa City allowed New Creations to use its sanctuary for services during its time without a home, and church leaders continued its service to the community. Through the Angel Tree Program, for example, the congregation collected gifts for children of 50 different families in which a parent was incarcerated.
But the period without a home proved to be very short.
Pastor Smith received word through the real estate agent that the pending offer on the Court Street building had fallen through. The real estate agent also connected New Creations with a developer who wanted to buy the undeveloped part of the Court Street property to build two duplexes.
That connection and a lower sale price from two years sitting on the market put the space within budget.
New Creations overcame another hurdle when the owner selected its bid over another that came in. A two-week wait followed for financing to come through, and then the closing.
Members of the congregation continued visiting the parking lot to pray.
“By the grace of God, this building was sitting here waiting for us,” said Larissa Taylor, 53.
The weekend after the sale, on Nov. 24, worshipers gathered for their first service on Court Street.
The building needs some “TLC,” as Pastor Smith put it, but its bones are strong.
Smith said the church plans to run a day care, with a kitchen, in the spacious church hall, grow the youth ministry and provide gathering space for community events. Members also plan to open a satellite location for a Bible college network called Life Christian University, and at least two other churches — Ebenezer Pentecostal Church and Glory of God International Church— will be using the sanctuary.
The New Creations will host a New Year’s Eve celebration, and it will hold an open house for neighbors in early 2014, Smith said.
“It is truly our home for the holidays,” Smith said.