"Look at the nations and watch and be utterly amazed. For I am going to do something in your days that you would not believe even if you were told."
The biblical passage from Habakkuh 1:5 is the favorite of Colton Irving, pastor of 360 Church of Petaluma. But even he of major faith is having a difficult time believing what is happening to his church and how it has grown from 10 parishioners with $500 in the bank to making plans for one of the largest religious complexes ever conceived in Petaluma.
It was just three years ago that Irving established the church. In October, 360 Church of Petaluma closed a deal to purchase the former North Bay Construction headquarters property (almost nine acres) located ont Payran Street near Lindberg Lane for $8.2 million.
Plans are for a church that will seat 800 to 900 worshipers, church offices, a pre-school, a playground for kids, meeting rooms for outreach programs and even a fitness center that will be leased to a private operator.
Irving said the planned new church is the result of faith, hard work, good fortune and a touch of bravado.
As the once-tiny church grew into its present size of more than 200, with a strong indication that more growth is coming, Irving began to look for a larger location.
A tip from a Realtor sent him online to check out the North Bay site. "It looked perfect," he recalled, "and I had just seen the buildings. I didn't even know about the eight acres. Once I saw it, I forgot about other sites."
There was only one minor problem — the church had just $16,000 in the bank when Irving found his dream site, the result of its having devoted much of its funds to outreach programs and donations to community charitable causes.
The initial offer was for the church to put down $1.6 million and for the owner, John Barella, to finance the rest.
"We agreed that, outside of God's help, it would be impossible," Irving recalled. "We shut down all our ministries for a week and took the time for prayer and fasting."
In the midst of the negotiations, Irving's older sister, Becky Irving, died.
"The last message she sent me was: &‘I only hope my little brother is working on our new building and that's why he never called me back,'" the pastor recalled.
There was still little hope of obtaining the down payment when, on last Easter Sunday morning, Irving received a call from a congregation member. "She said, &‘I have $1.6 million, do you want it?'" Irving remembered. "I about passed out. The whole thing seemed surreal."
By the time the negotiations had ended, the parishioner, Mari Benson, widow of the late Petaluma entrepreneur Bob Benson, guaranteed for the church the $3 million it needed for a down payment that would allow the mortgage payments to come down to a manageable level.
At Benson's urging, those negotiations were conducted in person rather than through Realtors and other agents.
"I kept telling Colton we needed to have a face-to-face meeting with John Barella," Benson said. "My husband always told me, &‘You've got to go meet the people.' Once we got to communicating on a person-to-person level, we got things worked out."