Chapter 8 struck me as the oddest of all — converting a Walmart into a chapel in Pinellas Park, Florida. Now, admittedly, it’s a Calvary Chapel plus a whole bunch of other things, not your traditional wayside chapel of Catholicism, for example. Yet, when you realize that the parishioners are not “local neighbourhood” residents, but cross the county, it isn’t surprising that they would choose a building with built-in parking and a virtually unlimited size meeting space (i.e. auditorium). How big a congregation? Services for 700-1000 at a time are for slow days, normal hits at about 1500, and potentially 3300 are part of the congregation.
When Walmart was looking to vacate their space, the Calvary Chapel was already in a smaller old Winn-Dixie store. They bid on the new space, and Walmart agreed. The part I find a bit confusing in the story is that the author seems a bit puzzled about Walmart’s decision, even though there were potentially higher bidders. The Chapel credits divine intervention; the authors wonders if it was PR, or that the Chapel had a good business reputation for reuse, etc. Yet the author already spoke of the most likely reasons way back in the earliest chapters — when Walmart vacates, they want to know that whoever takes over the space is not going to compete with them for business. And they often have huge lease and/or sale restrictions to prevent it. With the Chapel? No such concerns.
The renovation is extensive, of course. Even the roof has been modified to have a huge patio. Inside, they have sports areas (courts for basketball, dodgeball, etc.), recreation areas (pool tables on a second floor), some small theatres, lots of offices, some educational spaces for schooling, etc. And of course, a temporary auditorium for 1500.
I can’t help but feel there is some irony between products for the masses and a commercial approach to religion, but that is my own upbringing showing through I suppose. But the renovation of the exterior wasn’t a big concern for the church, they are all about the congregation and having a tool to help serve them, not the extensive aesthetics.