LEE -- Pastor Jim Guenther wanted a memento of his new congregation's first Easter Sunday together.

Following an hourlong worship service, the spiritual leader, who recently founded the Open Door Church, asked the 60 men, women and children in attendance to join him and wife, Martha, for a group photo around the pulpit.

"You have made this day very special," Guenther told the gathering. "This will be something we'll treasure for decades."

Sunday's commemorative picture-taking also marked the Baptist minister's first month of leading a congregation that regularly gathers at a one-time church building converted into a performing and visual arts center.

Since March 3, Open Door Church has held Sunday services and other activities at the Spectrum Playhouse on Franklin Street, formerly St. George's Episcopal Church. The current owner, the College Internship Program through its founder, Michael McManmon, has renovated and upgraded to create a secular facility.

Nevertheless, Guenther says the stone structure, which is more than 150 years old, still has the look and feel of a church -- a key reason Open Door Church debuted in the middle of the Lenten season.

"When we found out the building was available Sunday morning, it pushed us faster than expected to begin," he said in an Eagle interview. "And with Easter coming up, we felt it was like a no-brainer."

Several church lay leaders feel they had a calling to help create a new house of worship in town.

"I felt I needed to do this and help establish this church," said Ali Zabian, of Lee, church treasurer.

"I look forward to building [Open Door Church] from the ground up and seeing what God will do with this," added Lee resident Jeff Searing.

Open Door Church marks the third congregation Guenther has led during his nearly 30 years as a Baptist minister.

Seth Hopkins, 4, peruses the Bible during the first Easter Sunday service at Open Door Church in Lee.
Seth Hopkins, 4, peruses the Bible during the first Easter Sunday service at Open Door Church in Lee. (Stephanie Zollshan / Berkshire Eagle Staff)
Originally a certified public account, the Arkansas native began his clergy career in northern Louisiana in 1981. Five years later, he moved to Niskayuna, N.Y., to pastor the Trinity Baptist Church for 23 years, before he and his wife left in 2009 to do missionary work in Brazil.

Last November, the Guenthers returned to the Northeast, bought a home in Lee and began planning to establish the new church.

Financially, Open Door Church is relying on start-up funding from several Baptist churches around the country through the North American Mission Board, Southern Baptist Commission. Guenther says the money helps pay for the one-year lease the church has to use the Spectrum Playhouse and other expenses. He noted the funding will gradually decrease over a five-year period, at which time Open Door Church will look to become self-sufficient.

Spiritually, Open Door, as the name suggests, is open to all people who look to holy scriptures for guidance in their daily lives.

"We see the Bible as our authority to do things," Guenther said. "I intend this to be a simple church and see what God has in store for use every day."

Church member Myron Hood, of Lee, finds Guenther's philosophy refreshing.

"He also practices what he preaches," Hoods said.

Guenther also realizes the congregation is the strength of the church and plans to rely heavily on its members to keep it going.

"He makes sure we are all involved," Zabian said. "The pastor will be burned out if he doesn't."

To reach Dick Lindsay:
rlindsay@berkshireeagle.com,
or (413) 496-6233.

If you go ...

What: Open Door Church services

When: Sundays at 10 a.m.; Wednesday at 6:30 p.m.

Where: Spectrum Playhouse, 20 Franklin St., Lee (formerly St. George's Episcopal Church)

Contact: Call (413) 248-7884 or email james.m.guenther@ gmail.com.

Information: www.opendoor4you.com