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Church use of center a win-win
• Big Valley Grace opens Ceres campus at Community Center
Big Valley Grace Ceres
Big Valley Grace Community Church worship services started at the Ceres Community Center throughout September but the grand opening will take place this Sunday at 10 a.m. - photo by Contributed

Big Valley Grace Community Church has been holding prelaunch worship services in September at the Ceres Community Center but its first formal start will be at 10 a.m. on Sunday, Oct. 6 with all services in October to be grand opening events. 

The city of Ceres and the church sees an approved two-year agreement for the rental of the church as a win-win scenario. The church gets to hold worship services in an attractive, modern facility without a building program and the city says the revenue from the rental will significantly chip away at the operational deficit of the center, which has been a recent focus of the City Council. The city expects checks cut by the church to reduce the center’s red ink by about $60,368 annually.

The leadership of the Modesto church wanted to launch a satellite campus in the southern portion of the county where many members live.

“In looking at where we have people in our church living already coming to the Modesto campus from … that’s why we chose the south county,” said Pastor Joel Boone. “That led to us looking at Ceres specifically.”

Over 100 people have committed to volunteer and serve at the new campus. They come from Ceres, Hughson, Keyes, Denair, Turlock and south Modesto. The average attendance at services through September has been 150, said Boone, including volunteers and children.

Joel Boone
Pastor Joel Boone preaches at Ceres campus of Big Valley Grace Community Church.

Setup and tear-down of the church has been smooth largely because of volunteers.

“There’s an incredible number of people who have committed to serve and volunteer their time to make this happen,” said Boone, “and they are serving very hard and very faithfully. It’s worked out really fantastic.”

Worship in the large assembly room is focused on adults. Ministries for birth through 18 are offered during worship in the other rooms. Overseeing those ministries is Adelina Chewning.

Boone is the primary teaching pastor assigned to the Ceres church but Big Valley’s other pastors will rotate through, including Senior Pastor Rick Countryman. Associate Pastor Matt Ippolito has been delivering pre-launch sermons.

A website has been set up for the new Ceres church and is at

For six months the church searched for buildings but ultimately decided to rent out the Community Center. In April, Big Valley Grace officials approached the city about using the Ceres Community Center for Sunday services for a satellite campus and other church-related activities. Because the Community Center was not open for Sunday rentals, city staff supported allowing the large church to conduct worship services in the large assembly room and use the former Teen Room for office space, as well as other uses when the center is available to the public.

Big Valley Grace crowd
Ceres area residents applaud the opening of Big Valley Grace's Ceres campus outside of the Ceres Community Center.

The contract with the city allows the church to use the facility for two years with the option to renew the agreement annually for three additional years. Boone said the church would have the option to seek a new agreement or build, but such focus is premature.

“I don’t what the future holds. It’s going to take some time being in the Community Center before we know whether we want to continue longer than our contract. After a couple of years we’ll have an understanding of is it working being in the Community Center size wise and function of time and availability during the week. Only time will tell and as our ministries progress and are developed beyond what is even happening on Sunday morning, that will really be an indicator … if we want to extend past five years.”

The city is charging Big Valley Grace church $5,300 per month to hold weekly church services, or once audio/visual equipment is installed.

The church will use the Community Center Sundays from 6 a.m. to 10 p.m. for weekly services; and on Mondays 6 a.m. to 9 a.m. for Bible study and the breakdown of classrooms. The church will not use the office area, utility/storage closets, the City Council dais, and the computer lab room.

The church is also agreeing to pay the city $1,500 per month (or $17,250 annually) for the sole and exclusive use of the Community Room (former Teen Room), starting July 15. Use of that office space will be limited to Community Center operation hours, which is Mondays through Thursdays, 8:30 a.m. to 7:30 p.m.; Fridays through Saturdays, 8:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m.; and Sunday as determined by use.

The church also wants to use other rooms for programs at an annual cost of $12,000.

The grand total that Big Valley is willing to shell out comes to $82,250 per year, or $6,854 per month. The rent would increase two percent each July 1.

The rental is expected to add $21,882 to the city’s costs for janitorial, supplies and part-time staff costs. The city expects to benefit by $60,368 annually which will go toward the operational deficit on the center.

City Manager Toby Wells said the center was expected to have an operational deficit of $113,281 for fiscal year 2019-20 but the revenue from the church will drop that to about $53,000.

Because the church wanted to use the large meeting room to hold services and the city didn’t have an upgraded audio-visual system – and has lost commercial rentals because of it – the church is buying $45,000 to $50,000 for upgraded equipment. Once the equipment is installed, the city will own it. The city will pay for the design and installation of the A/V system at an unknown cost.

Recreation Manager Matthew Lohr said the major upgrade to the A/V system will make the center more attractive for prospective weekday rentals by businesses and corporations.

The A/V upgrade includes new TV monitors in the smaller assembly room which doubles as the City Council Chambers.

During recent budget discussions, the City Council expressed a desire to see the Community Center pull itself out of perpetual red ink – a problem since the center opened. City Manager Toby Wells said the center is operating at a narrower debt gap, pointing out that the center was going into debt annually at a rate of $250,000 but now projected to be around $120,000.

Lohr said the church’s men’s Bible Study will likely take place in the small assembly room on Monday mornings. That study has been attracting an estimated 80 to 90 participants.

The city has rented out the center for other religious purposes, such as Friday night Jehovah’s Witnesses conferences. 

Mayor Chris Vierra said he met with church leaders and applauded the partnership in light of all the good things the church is doing in the community.

“It just seemed like something that is very positive for our community,” said Vierra.  He added that the agreement keeps the center “fiscally viable, which has been a challenge for us for a while.”

Ironically, the center being on the site of Ceres Christian Church before in was razed in the 1990's.

Ceres resident Lou Sims said having the arrangements means he and his wife won’t have to drive to north Modesto to be a part of Big Valley Church.