People who drive past the former Grand Central Market in Somerset can see Grace Gospel Church’s prayers being answered. The former market will re-emerge in about a year as the new home of Grace Gospel Church, currently located at 271 Sharps Lot Road, Swansea. Those driving by may have noticed the steeple added to the front of the building in recent weeks.

People who drive past the former Grand Central Market at 3049 County St. can see Grace Gospel Church’s prayers being answered.

The former market will re-emerge in about a year as the new home of Grace Gospel Church, currently located at 271 Sharps Lot Road, Swansea. Those driving by may have noticed the steeple added to the front of the building in recent weeks.

“We’ve been working for more than a year,” said Grace Gospel pastor the Rev. Gerard Martel. “But it was the design process and we did a lot of work inside. Now, people can see what we’re doing.”

Or at least people can see what they think the church is doing.

“A woman driving by pulled into the lot and asked when the new Christmas Tree Shop would be open,” Martel said.

“We are moving for two reasons,” Martel said with a laugh. “Visibility and visibility.”

The church’s current location on 45 acres of former farmland, which also supports the church’s educational facilities, gym and baseball field, is just barely visible from Sharp’s Lot Road. Most of the buildings are at the rear of the property and down a slight hill.

The new site will feature just the church. The church’s other operations will remain on the Sharps Lot Road property.

“This will be our youth campus,” Martel said.

Eighteen months ago, the church bought the Grand Central property at auction for $800,000, a considerable bargain compared to the original $1.5 million asking price.

“The project, not including the loan we took out to purchase the property, will cost about $2.5 million,” Martel said.

While Martel isn’t ruling out another loan, it’s something he and pastor Jack Owens, who serves as point man on the project, are trying to avoid.

“We’re building as we raise the money,” Owens said.

So far, the church has raised about $500,000.

The Sharps Lot Road Church can seat, at most, 800 worshippers, Martel said. The new church will hold 1,500 worshippers — 1,100 on the main floor and another 400 in the balcony. The church needs the room, too. Martel estimated 150 people have joined his church in the last 12 months.

“It’s a lot of work,” said Owens, who noted that members of Grace Gospel have been very generous, and not just with money.

“The general contractor, Eddie Petrosso, has donated his services,” Owens said. “Also, there are a lot of men in the congregation, skilled laborers, carpenters, electricians, who have donated their time.”

“If I didn’t have Jack, I would be swallowed by this,” Martel said. “I wouldn’t be able to pay attention to the other things I need to do.”

Martel said Somerset has welcomed the new church.

“We have had a wonderful experience with the town,” Martel said, adding that Somerset was pleased to have the vacant building occupied.

There was one very slight bump in the relationship between Somerset and Grace Gospel.

“We had a banner outside, telling people that we were building a new church,” Owens said. It was too big under town regulations. We took it down.”

Three decades ago, Martel left his job as a machinist in Fall River to become a full-time pastor, holding his first service in his mother-in-law’s living room.

“At first, we were on Grove Street in Fall River,” Martel said, going on to say that the Sharps Lot Road property, bought soon after, cost the church $50,000 — an immense sum in the 1970s, but paltry now, at least for 45 acres of land. The land the church bought on County Street comprises 5 acres.

The new church will offer not just a place to worship, but Sunday school facilities, a cafeteria, a coffee shop and a foyer with fireplaces and plenty of comfortable places to sit.

While there are other businesses in the plaza, Martel said there’s plenty of parking for all.
“We’re going to have a foyer with fireplaces and couches that will hold 300 people,” Martel said, adding that the new church will offer expanded space for everything from prayer groups to substance abuse ministries.

“It’s very important for people after they leave the sanctuary to have a place that’s warm and inviting where they can create relationships,” Martel said of the spacious foyer. “There will also be a banquet room.”

Martel admits it’s a big project, but said he and his congregation want to leave a foundation on which the next generation can build. It’s a vision, Martel said.

“It’s in Proverbs, Chapter 29, Verse 18,” Martel said. “Where there is no vision, the people perish.”

E-mail Herald News writer Marc Munroe Dion at mdion@heraldnews.com.