Living Word opens doors at former Tyson mansion
SOUTHINGTON — What began 13 years ago as a small group of church members meeting at the Packard Park shelter house has grown to more than 150 members meeting at the former Mike Tyson mansion in Southington.
Members of the Living Word Sanctuary will be celebrating their first Christmas Eve service at the new 27,000-square-foot church, which opened in the spring at the township site.
Pastor Nick DeJacimo, co-pastor of the non-denominational church with Mark Cohen, said members of the church, community members and local businesses volunteered their time for more than three years transforming the former heavyweight boxer’s home into the new church.
“It was the time and dedication provided by the membership and their skills and labor that made this possible. Most of the work was done on Saturdays, but we also met during the week in the evenings to work,” DeJacimo said.
The sanctuary, which can seat 300 people, is located on the northern side of the building — the site of the former indoor swimming pool. On the walls are biblical messages welcoming people, including one near the main entrance that states: “You will be blessed when you come in and blessed when you go out,” from the Book of Deuteronomy.
Next to the sanctuary is a large main entrance area complete with beige-gray walls, dark woodwork and wrought-iron railings, and a small fountain. The area was the former Tyson living room.
“When we first walked into this place more than three-and-a-half years ago, no one looked at all the work that needed to be done as a burden. We went right to work,” he said.
The congregation met for 11 years at the former YWCA of Warren each weekend and then held its first service on Easter at the new location.
“It was so exciting to finally open the doors and be here. Our church has many young families that attend here. We get many guests who attend. There are many Amish who come here,” he said, noting there was a wedding this spring, several baptisms and a recent program on a mission trip to Israel next year that church members are attending.
While all the indoor work at the church is completed, DeJacimo said landscaping and outdoor work still needs to be done, including a back patio area for weddings and events. The building also was made handicapped accessible with the installation of a lift.
Entering the property, a one-acre lake sits on one side and a two-acre lake on the other side, which DeJacimo said adds to the beauty.
An official grand opening and ribbon cutting will be held when the outdoor work is complete. DeJacimo said displays will be set up showing the entire process of transforming the building from beginning to end.
DeJacimo said the church has a nursery area, a youth and chldren’s area, prayer room, upstairs offices and 16 restrooms, including a large one on the second floor to be used as a dressing room for bridal parties.
The church is becoming active in the community as a dropoff site for the annual Operation Christmas Child, where shoeboxes are filled with toys and other items for children to be sent overseas for the holidays. Members of the church filled more than 170 boxes.
Jessica Rishel, a member of the church with her husband Jon and their children, leads many of the educational programs for the kids.
Rishel said she and others are excited to have their own church building.
“It has given us a freedom to serve God in an even greater way. It is an open door from God for us, and for our community, and even for the world. I feel deeply blessed and excited to see what else God has in store for us as we walk through the doors that He opens,” she said. “Operation Christmas Child is just one example of this. Because we are able to have our own physical building, this year we are serving as a national collection dropoff location Nov. 18 to 25. The shoebox gifts we will send, filled with the good news and with great love, and will reach children all around the world.”
“I am so blessed that a church our size is in something this magnificent,” DeJacimo said. “Our members stayed faithful to what God could do. Who would have thought a church that started at the Packard Park shelter house 13 years ago today would be at a 60-acre site with this huge building and property? I marvel at all that has been done here.
The church and property were donated in 2015 by a Detroit investor who had purchased it at sheriff’s sale.
“When people come inside the church, they are just blown away. ‘This is amazing’ is what we hear,” he said.