RICHMOND, Ind. — As he watched an excavator tear into his burned-out church Friday, Bishop George Bennett couldn’t help but raise the corners of his mouth.
The senior pastor of Holy Temple Church of God wasn’t happy, though.
No, he was pensive, but a part of him, he said, was ready for his congregation to start writing its next chapter, ready to see what God might have in store for the church.
“It’s really a bittersweet moment, but I’ve shed my tears,” Bennett said. “It’s one of those things where it’s a nightmare, but when you accept the will of God, you can move on.”
Bennett was one of several who watched the community church, situated at 811 N. 14th St. for the past 87 years, be torn to the ground, just one day after a fire gutted much of its interior.
The cause of the fire likely will never be determined, as Richmond Fire Department investigators could not access the fire’s believed area of origin due to structural issues.
Very little was saved inside the church before its walls began coming down, aside from a few portraits from the fellowship hall of former pastors and church leaders and other photographs from throughout the congregation’s history. The bibles, musical equipment, and even the pulpit were still inside the church when it was razed.
But for Bennett, that’s all just stuff at the end of the day — even if among the images not touched by the fire was one of his mother. He said the most important thing was that nobody was hurt, and that the congregation remains strong in its faith, and it remains together.
The pastor said the decision was made by the board of trustees last week that the church would be rebuilt on the same spot.
“We’re going to rebuild on the property,” he said. “We’ve just got to meet with some contractors.”
Bennett gave a preliminary timetable of when the church could be back open of “eight months to a year,” but noted the timeline could shift due to a number of factors, such as weather, construction costs and permitting.
He said the new facility would be state-of-the-art, but did not indicate how much the church would be willing to spend for the new building.
“They don’t make them like that anymore,” Bennett said solemnly, pointing to the old building as a piece of its south wall came down. “They sure don’t.”
Former church member Bobby Farris attended the church for more than 30 years and watched as some of the demolition Friday. He was among at least a dozen who came to the church to witness the building’s destruction.
As he stood in front of the gutted building, the former church musician said he recalled playing guitar and piano inside on Sunday mornings. He also said the building was important, but less so than the people.
“It hurts, it really hurts,” he said. “It was always the people that made it (though) … that’s just a building. But it just hurts to see it like this. It’s a shame.” The church’s assistant pastor, Dracy Ledford Jr., said he too was disappointed to see the fate of the building, but added he is confident the congregation’s situation will improve over time.
“I’m despondent and sad, but happy and glad,” he said. “God permits certain things to come our way, and you know, you can anticipate that things will be better in the times to come.”
Ledford said the congregation, which has about 100 members including some from western Ohio who make the trip every Sunday, would find a temporary place to worship.
For this past Sunday’s service, the church was given access to the Martha Dwyer Community Center, 1417 N. A St., he said. A long-term plan for future services was not immediately available.
“We have to rejoice somewhere else (for now), but thank God for that,” Ledford said, adding he would miss the “smooth sound” from the church’s Hammond organ, which was destroyed by the fire and demolition.
Bennett said the church will continue its programming and community outreach efforts, including programs offered on Mondays and Thursdays for those in need of food; those programs will be conducted outside on the church property, he said.
“We’re not going to stop running our programs,” he said. “This will not stop the ministry at all. We’ll continue doing the work we’ve been assigned to do from God.”
“The building is gone, but the memories are in our heart,” Bennett said.
Source: (Richmond) Palladium-Item, https://pinews.co/2J1qWtY
Information from: Palladium-Item, http://www.pal-item.com
This is an AP-Indiana Exchange story offered by the (Richmond) Palladium-Item.