By TOMIE LUNSFORD
Telegram Staff Writer
With a slew of RVs parked in its lot, the First Baptist Church of Troy looks like it might be hosting a carnival or rodeo.
But the two-week guests resemble neither carneys nor cowboys.
The 25 men who call those RVs home are retired teachers, accountants, bankers and lawyers. Instead of slacks and briefcases, they now wear hard hats and overalls with hammers and saws hanging from their belts.
Their wives call them the Hammering Grandpas.
And their nametags say 'Texas Baptist Men Retiree Church Builders (TBMCB) building for the glory of God.' Developed in the late 1960s, the statewide organization has at least 80 members.
Program leaders at the headquarters in Dallas said the volunteer organization, divided into groups of about 20 men, can build 18 to 20 Baptist churches every year. The group gets 50-60 requests annually for help with church construction.
The TBMCB crew camped in Troy is constructing a new building for Grant Chapel Church. The congregation's current building on Old Waco Road in Troy is over capacity with its 100-plus members outnumbering its 80 seats. The roof is falling down around the edges as well.
Grant Chapel first sought the help of the TBMCB almost three years ago. Project leader Darwin Watson said 'it took Grant Chapel some time finding the right plot of land.'
From the ground up
TBMCB started work on Monday, Jan. 8. Only some grass and a square, cement foundation decorated the land at 200 N. St. across the street from FBC-Troy. They broke ground on Nov. 26.
Work began in earnest on Jan. 8. In two days, the men had managed to interpret the blueprints, divide into work teams and construct the building's frame.
By the way, these Hammering Grandpas aren't young gents, just out of school. All of them are over 55 and some are well into their 80s.
Only three of the 25 workers knew carpentry before joining TBMCB. One is a licensed, retired electrician. Most are skilled amateurs, having learned the hammer-and-nail craft by trial and error.
They expect the new Grant Chapel church to be near complete by Saturday, Jan. 20. That's when the crew leaves, headed for home.
'We may not finish completely,' said Darwin Watson of Fort Worth, TBMCB project manager. 'We're here to assist and do what we can.'
Whatever work remains will be the responsibility of Grant Chapel and First Baptist.
'We're partner churches,' explained Harlan Haines, pastor of FBC-Troy. 'The partnership started five years ago when Grant Chapel applied to become a part of the Baptist General Convention of Texas. We agreed to help them.
The contract between the two churches called for a two-year partnership, 'but it worked out so well, we stayed partners,' Haines said.
The pastor said several people from the Troy community have volunteered to help with any remaining work on the new Grant Chapel building.
'There's people from (FBC-Troy) who have signed on, Haines said. 'And folks from the Bell Baptist Association,' Haines said.
Congregation members of Troy United Methodist Church plan to install the Sheetrock, said pastor Wade Killough. Troy UMC also helped pay for the materials the TBMCB are using to construct the building. The Methodist church is linked to Grant Chapel Church via the Troy Ministerial Alliance, an entity of Christian church leaders in Troy that work to support each other.
'What ever's not done after that, we'll have to pay for,' Haines said. 'We'll be relying on donations and congregation contributions.'
The cement foundation rang a bill of $40,000, and Haines said the pews will cost $17,000. The Grant Chapel Church building will have a capacity for close to 150 people.
'Nobody is in competition here,' Haines said. 'We're all part of the same body. As (Grant Chapel) church grows, we'll all grow.'
On the road
The Hammering Grandpas work from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. everyday, depending on the weather.
'But you've always got to make time for lunch,' said Maretta Brown, wife of TBMCB church builder Ken Brown. FBC-Troy provides the noontime meal for the church builders and their wives.
Then for the 15-minute breaks at 9:30 a.m. and 3 p.m., the wives will serve their husbands snacks of fruits, nuts and mini-cracker sandwiches.
'Lunch is the first thing we require when we take on a new job. One square meal a day,' said Darwin Watson of Fort Worth, TBMCB project manager. 'The other is a place to park our RVs.'
His arm, tanned from the elbow down, pointed to FBC-Troy where his crew was camped.
'It's a pretty good set up,' Watson said, laughing.
That's actually an understatement.
The TBMCB guys camp in style. Several RVs had dishes for satellite TV reception. Lacking no modern convenience, their RV homes have complete kitchens, hot running water and wireless connection to the Internet.
Some of the wives added that staying stylish on the road isn't difficult either. They said they're mobile homes allow enough storage space for a decent-size wardrobe. The group shares a full-size washer and dryer; the two units have their own tent at the front of the RV camp.
'I don't really pack and unpack. I live in my RV full time,' Mrs. Brown said. 'In the off weeks, we visit children and grandchildren, but mostly, our home is the RV. Not everyone does that though.'
Mrs. Brown explained that several of the TBMCB couples have houses they return to during off weeks.
The TBMCB builders work two weeks each month.
'Except for December. We break for the holidays,' Watson said. 'We work one week in November and one week in August. It's just too hot in August.'
With Sunday's forecasted high of 39 degrees Fahrenheit, heat definitely won't be a problem, a couple of the men joked.
'The cold's a different story this go around,' one of them said.
The chilly forecast reminded Pastor Haines about an errand that he needed to run before Friday.
'Last call for a propane run,' Haines told Watson.
Equipped with propane heaters the size of a toddler's four-wheeler, the RVs have the capability to stay warm and toasty.
The ladies' ministry
While the men are at work hammering and sawing, the wives who travel with them are at work ministering to their host community. These ladies are the Grandmas on Wheels.
'The daily prayer, of course, is the most important thing we do,' Mrs. Brown said. She and her husband, Ken, have been active in the Baptist building group since 2001.
They conduct Bible studies for Sunday school classes, and they visit shut-ins and nursing home residents.
'We have sewing projects where we make lap quilts for the elderly,' Mrs. Brown said.
For the ladies of FBC-Troy, the Grandmas on Wheels crafted some pen and pencil holders.
'We'll be presenting them at Sunday's service,' Mrs. Brown said, referring to the service at 10:45 a.m. Sunday, Jan. 14, at FBC-Troy, 20 Church Ave. The service will be a joint one First Baptist Church of Troy, Grant Chapel Church of Troy and the Texas Baptist Men Retiree Church Builders (and wives).
The Hammering Grandpas and Grandmas on Wheels will lead the service, preach, sing and share testimony. The women will wear green skirts and white blouses. Matching their wives, the men will sport white shirts with green vests green caps.
'Green stands for growth, and white is purity,' said Grace Connor, a TBMCB wife since 1996. The green-and-white tradition started in the 1960s not long after the group was formed.
'The men don't sing that much,' Mrs. Connor said. 'Just on Sundays really.'
The women, however, frequently sing while out on their visits to nursing homes and shut-ins. The Grandmas on Wheels plan to visit a Temple nursing home this week.
Mrs. Connor adds a touch of music with tunes from the harmonica and mandolin.
The crafts and the singing are not separate projects of the TBMCB.
'We're together,' Mrs. Brown said. 'We're the same, working toward the same goal.'
In fact, the women's name tags read the same as the men's, 'Texas Baptist Men Retiree Church Builders building for the glory of God.'
'I get a lot of funny looks,' Mrs. Connor said. 'They look at me then tell me I'm not a Texas Baptist Man.' She often responds, 'Well, I hang out with one.'
And when the day is done
When the sun sets, the men leave the construction site and head for their RVs. Most of the women are already home, ready to soothe their husbands' aches and pains, as the song goes.
After a warm, hearty meal, the men, tired from another day of hard physical work, settle on lawn chairs scattered throughout the makeshift RV camp.
One man plays his guitar.
Some of the men start chatting about the day's work or tomorrow's tasks. A couple of them talk about feats from long ago.
Then, here and there, men play dominoes or cards.
Yawning when it's bedtime, the ment want to retire - to bed.