Million dollar church renovation project in Cass County completed

Published: Sep. 16, 2021 at 7:27 PM EDT
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CASS COUNTY, Mich. (WNDU) - A million-dollar mission to preserve a magic Michiana moment has been accomplished.

Donations funded the renovation of a building in Pokagon Township where the popular hymn “The Old Rugged Cross” was sung for the first time in 1913.

The project had its share of non-believers.

“People would stop and say, ‘buddy you’re wasting your time.

You can’t save that,’” recalled Bob Shaffer with the Old Rugged Cross Foundation. “The first architectural firm we talked to told us ‘It’s beyond repair. Tear it down and build new. It will be half the price.’’”

The situation was perhaps darkest before the dawn. Before Bob and Molly Shaffer bought the dilapidated structure for $10,000 and started their 21-year, million-dollar mission.

“I don’t know that we ever had more than $20,000 at any one time. It was just as we had money we did the next step,” said Molly Tate Shaffer.

Molly says the smallest donation was three crumpled bills mailed in by an elderly man in Texas. The largest was a $75,000 gift called for in the will of a local woman named Lila Zimmerman.

“What you’re looking at is actually a miracle. The hand of God was placed on this project,” said Bob Shaffer.

While the building housed a church in its hey-day, in its rebirth, it does not.

There are no weekly services here. It’s just an ecumenical place where there are public hymn sings twice a month, and concerts at least once a month.

There’s never an admission charge…just a free will collection plate.

“We have half empty churches all around us. We didn’t think God needed another one, and didn’t feel that’s what he wanted,” Molly explained. “A lot of unchurched people will come to the hymn sings that won’t go to church. They don’t want to be preached at and don’t realize that they’re getting a sermon in every one of those old hymns.”

Work on the project is now complete. It actually wrapped up in September of 2019, but dedication ceremonies were never held due to COVID 19.

Those dedication ceremonies will be open to the public and held Sunday September 19th starting at 3:00 p.m.

The facility is located at 61041 Vermont Street in Dowagiac.

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