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COLOSSAL HOUSE OF GOD

Drive down a shady neighborhood street and suddenly, one of the biggest churches in Florida looms ahead. The future Idlewild Baptist church has emerged in full grandeur off Van Dyke Road.

Yet it's screened from Van Dyke by cypress swamps. So only a few thousand people, mainly construction workers, neighbors and church members, have seen it.

That's scheduled to change in September, when the 9,000-member church plans to move to the new campus from Bearss Avenue. The main entrance road, milelong Exciting Idlewild Boulevard, will become a public road linking the church to N Dale Mabry Highway and Crystal Lake Road. People will be able to drive right up to one of Florida's biggest churches.

How big?

Idlewild's 400,000 square feet are more than one-third the floor space of Citrus Park's mall.

A retention pond dug by Idlewild is one of the deepest lakes in Hillsborough County, at 30 feet.

Air Force One, the president's jet, would fit comfortably inside the new sanctuary, though the tail would jut among the ceiling beams.

"What amazes me is all the material that's been lugged into this building, and carried up and up," said Norman Childers, one of 35 volunteer tour guides who are leading Idlewild's Bible classes through the new structure.

Yet Childers, a 58-year-old retired Verizon manager, has an important point for every group.

"We're not building just for the joy of having a big structure," Childers said. "We're building it for the lives it can impact, to turn lives to Christ. . . . That's the whole reason for this enormous effort."

Freeze-dried palms

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