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Hallelujahs take the place of hangovers

By WAVENEY ANN MOORE, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published May 15, 2002

ST. PETERSBURG -- When members of Wings Fellowship Church set eyes on the interior of the two-story building their pastor wanted to purchase for their sanctuary, most were aghast.

The mirrors and black painted walls left them practically speechless.

It would, they thought, take months of back-breaking effort -- and possibly a miracle -- to transform the former nightclub into a house of prayer.

"I just had to convince them that it would work," the Rev. John Chance recalled Monday.

Joyce Reynolds, who attends the church with her husband, three children, four grandchildren and other family members, remembered the day she and other church members toured the former club.

"Oh, man. It was dark. It was scary," she said.

Still, Mrs. Reynolds shared her pastor's vision.

"Always in my mind, I thought it would work," she said.

"I used to attend that club years ago. Back then, it was a really nice place. It was different colors. It wasn't black. It looks so beautiful now."

The former nightclub at 1801 34th St. S has undergone a metamorphosis since church members first saw it several months ago. Gone are the black ceiling tiles and black walls, as well as most of the mirrors. The stage has disappeared. The large black speakers that hung from the ceiling have been taken down. And the glittering disco ball? Gone.

As for the black-patterned carpeting, the minister has vowed, "It's gonna be gone."

The new church building had several incarnations as a night spot, but it's probably best remembered as Ike's, after its former owner, local entrepreneur Isaac "Ike" McBride. Most recently, it was home to Club 727, a sports bar whose specialty was "live parties," wings and ribs.

Wings Fellowship Church did not close on the property, purchased for $320,000, until mid April. Since January, though, members have been laboring on its transformation. It took two coats of white paint and a sealer to hide the black walls, the minister said. Before painting, though, the men, women and children of the church inscribed Bible verses on the walls to undergird their new church with the word of God.

The first service on the new property took place on April 28. The club's ground floor lounge can seat 300 to 400 worshipers. The church currently has 200 members. It is the congregation's first property. Chance, a former minister at Mount Zion Progressive Missionary Baptist Church, started his ministry four years ago. His congregation has met in the clubhouse at Lynn Lake Arms Apartments and most recently at Lake Vista Recreation Center.

During a recent tour of the former club, the minister pointed out its numerous bathrooms and spoke of his vision of turning the upper floor, which has a balcony overlooking the sanctuary, into a fellowship hall.

"It can be used for birthday parties, wedding receptions. It's got everything up there for that," he said of the area, which boasts a bar among its amenities.

There is room as well for expansion, said Chance, who mentioned that he had received calls from real estate agents offering to sell the church adjacent property. He believes his church is in the right place for what he wants to do.

"I want to be where I can really help the neighborhood," Chance said of a community already chock-full of churches, many along nearby 18th Avenue S.

There are some aspects of his church's new property that mystify even him.

Just off the main lobby is a grotto-like room with a horse shoe-shaped entryway.

"This has been a puzzle for most of us," Chance said as showed a visitor into the fascinating chamber.

For now, he said, it stays.

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